I have a very good friend. The first time she saw one of my paintings, she said, "I know nothing about art. But I like this."
She bought the painting, but that isn't the point of my story. Maybe it should be, but I've never cared much about selling paintings. It's not my "point."
I asked her, "What is it you think you don't know?"
"I find art intimidating," she said. "For example, I don't understand why someone would pay millions of dollars for some shit Jackson Pollock threw at a canvas while some really beautiful paintings go unsold. Or why Andy Warhol is a genius for painting a Campbell's soup can. I guess I just don't get it."
So, being the cultured, intellectual artist that I am, I offered her my wisdom on the subject.
"Yeah, I don't get it, either. But, maybe...
"Maybe Pollock was just mad as hell and couldn't take the same shit he saw everyone else 'throwing' at a canvas any longer. Same with Warhol. Maybe these guys didn't think the world needed one more bowl of fruit or another serene meadow in a gilt frame hanging in the bathroom."
Fact is, it doesn't really matter whether you know anything about art. Because we all know something. Art is a unique language. It's unlike any other language known to mankind. A wonderful language that has no rules or boundaries. We're each able to take what it gives us--and, in some cases, that might even be a way to break down through our personal boundaries and discover something that speaks to us in a new, unique way.
Being human, we like our rules and boundaries. They are useful in helping keep society orderly and peaceful. They make us feel safe. But history has shown us they can also allow tyrants to do what tyrants do, imposing their will--and their restrictions--on entire civilizations. What is often less obvious to us is how we place shackles on ourselves; how we think about our lives and the world around us. Art is a language that can release us of those chains--if we're willing to venture outside our comfortable zone of "feeling safe." The freedom expressed through the language of art is why art is so feared by those who crave power.
Did Pollock and Warhol prevent tyranny with their paintings? Perhaps not. But they remind us that we shouldn't be limited by our boundaries--many of which we self-impose.
"Okay, I see what you're saying," she sighed. "But I still think Pollock's stuff is shit and I don't want it hanging on my wall. I like yours much better."
I'm honored today that someone likes my shit. If one day it stops a tyrant in his tracks (doubtful!) or makes someone think about something from a fresh perspective (hopefully!) all the better. But if art means just having something you enjoy looking at... well, that's okay, too.