What is art? From galleries to concert halls, theatres to books, we engulf ourselves in a sea of it, relishing every stroke and every note whilst never questioning what it truly is.
Of course, sneaking closely behind this question is another, far more pressing debate: what is an artist? What marks the difference between a man wielding a paintbrush and a true master of the stroke? What is the magic ingredient, driving us to seek and enjoy his work?
If there is one thing that all art unanimously achieves, it is to evoke thought and feeling outside that which we would normally dare to feel. It coils around our minds, taking us to places we would never otherwise go. It challenges us, defying our principles and introducing us to the unfamiliar.
And yet, remarkably, the art that best allows us to travel to the unknown almost always does so by exposing us only to what we already know – the ordinary.
Thus, art might be described not as a painting, poem or dance but, rather, as a thought: a notion. It is a recognition of the beauty and complexities found only in the mundane. And this recognition is one that we, as adults, become immune to.
To a young child, there is no such thing as ‘normal’. A typical day is only typical in as much as it has a beginning and an end. Its contents is filled with new faces, new sounds, new sights and an increasingly wonderful view of the world. A toddler pointing with delight at an aeroplane in the sky is met with a response of indifference from an adult who no longer sees the marvel in the concept of an object floating above their head. A child studying the lines on a stranger’s face will see far more behind that stranger’s eyes than anyone surrounding him could care to see. He will notice.
Alongside that time spent noticing comes an unravelling trail of untameable thought. Possibility is something that we are too quick to grow out of these days. It allows us to appreciate the everyday as though every part of it is something magical. It allows us to ask questions and create our own answers. It allows us to see the world for the epic adventure that it is.
The experience of enjoying a piece of art is very much like this. We are presented with the ordinary and persuaded, by the artist, that it is, in fact, extraordinary. We are reminded of the feelings we used to feel, before society took its hold of us.
Art is not a product but a process, free of inhibitions and boundaries. As such, every child is an artist because every child is born free. Every child is born with an air of curiosity and an innate drive to pursue it. Every child is born with a sense of raw feeling and an ability to notice this feeling in the world around them.
Then we grow up.
Then we grow up and stop noticing the world. We silence our feelings, ignore our thoughts and develop the indifference that truly marks our existence as an adult. With this transition to ‘generic human being’, we lose our ability to connect with others. We are so busy searching for the exceptional whilst simultaneously hiding from ourselves. In the midst of all this, we fail to see life as a magical phenomenon.
And so, it is of the utmost important that every one of us embraces our inner child, as well as the children surrounding us. It is imperative that we take the time to notice every single detail of life as it unfolds around us and it is essential that we truly identify with our own feelings in response to that which we see.
In this way, we might all live as artists: not by painting or drawing or writing but by being free.