Pablo Picasso once said: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up’. As children, the things we cherish most are our times for play, our curiosity, and, above all else, our imaginations. With responsibility and worry yet to enter our vocabularies, we are free to limitlessly explore the world around us, spending the bulk of our hours discovering and drinking in our surroundings. And it is in these moments – these fleeting years of infancy – that we are most creative: we create without aim, without goal, and without reason. We simply ‘do’, and at the heart of this inexplicable action lies the very root of art: it is an exploration of mind, of the self, and of the world as we experience it.
In this way, art isn’t something we seek or strive for, but more something that just is. Art happens. What these innermost mechanisms are that drive us as humans to create or invent or express, we’ll never truly understand, but they are not ones that require remuneration or reason; art is the anti-reason, the endeavour without end. It is an unquenchable and locationless thirst, and we are drawn to explore its mysteries much in the same way we are compelled to expand our knowledge about ourselves and the universe.
Though art and knowledge may seem like two opposing entities, the German word for art is kunst, which stems from the root word kennen meaning ‘to know’. In our pursuit of knowledge, we perhaps turn more readily to science for cold, hard fact – but isn’t art also about seeking these answers and an understanding of the world? In many ways, science takes over where art leaves off: astrophysicist and philosopher Sir Arthur Eddington mused that: ‘Science is an edged tool, with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers’. If science is a tool for adults, then art may well be the tool that children cut their fingers with – but does that mean we have to leave art behind us as we grow?
Perhaps the clearest division between science and art are the outcomes they most often achieve. Science looks to provide answers, whereas art is most comfortable dealing with that which defies explanation – the questions we cannot answer. Science is also widely regarded as a worthwhile pursuit in adult life, whereas the career path of an artist is one burdened with disapproval, miscomprehension, and criticism. Whether your art form is painting, music, writing, dancing or acting, the stigma associated with each reflects the state of our society: art is no longer considered a sensible or meaningful pilgrimage due to its instability and unreliability as a career. In this way, it is often blacklisted.
Of course, the general population do still love a good show, book, movie, and art exhibition – that isn’t the problem; art is still held in high regard by many. The problem is tied more to the social expectations and ‘norms’ of age-appropriate activity. When we are younger and starting to discover the world and ourselves, art seems far more acceptable as a pastime. But as we explode out of adolescence and into adulthood, we’re often expected to trade manuscripts and canvasses for anything else so long as it supplies a steady income and a mortgage. Once we trap ourselves inside our brick boxes and allow money to be our primary motivation, art falls by the wayside.
The loss of our imagination comes when our desire for art meets with our desire for money and we hope the two will get along. As children, art and imagination alone were enough to bring about happiness, yet we are hypnotised as we age into believing money can fill the same shoes. We discard art, then, replacing it with moneymaking activity, but often at the cost of the happiness we once basked in. As Benjamin Franklin so astutely phrased it: ‘Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes ones’.
What art offers, money cannot recreate. Art and our desire to imagine and explore are with us from such an early age, and yet so many of us deem these attributes to be disposable as we mature. We fill the space with jobs, with chores, with fears and worries, and wonder why we find ourselves unfulfilled and jaded. In our spare time, we immerse ourselves in the art of others – in film, literature, music – and wonder why these moments are the ones we cherish most. The answer is simple: for a short time, we are transported back to our childhood, exploring new worlds and forgotten feelings; swimming in memory and possibility; dancing with dreams and desires one more time.
If we are all so moved and so at one with art, then why on earth do we discard it so readily in the face of social expectation? I’m not suggesting we all down tools and survive on finger-painting alone, because unfortunately we’ve created a world in which we all need money – we all have our responsibilities and outgoings to cater for. What I am suggesting, though, is that we hold on to our imagination, to our art, and hold on tightly; that we find the time to continue in the unending pursuit of our kunst, and that we feed our curiosity from time to time; that we explore and discover and actually feel something. Because money leaves our hands sullied and dirtied, but art leaves our hands tingling, colourful, and alive.
Art will never be the thing that supports everyone’s life financially – that’s just for the luckiest of us! – but its role is both essential and indefinable, and shouldn’t be measured by how much monetary profit it garners. Instead, the profit of art is in the inexplicable joy it radiates, which is a part of its very nature. Of course, intrinsically, art has no measurable worth – Oscar Wilde wrote that ‘A work of art is useless. So is a flower’ – but just as flowers play a complex and unique role within their environment, so too does art play an irreplaceable role in what it is to be human. Not only that, but a world without flowers is an uglier one; what does that say about a human life without art?
As you go about your daily life, whatever that may entail, remember that happiness isn’t the same thing as wealth. Stop for a moment now and again and ask yourself who the richest people in the world really are: those with money, or those with something money can’t buy.