What great art aspires to

I watched a great, great movie with my daughter this weekend—“Boyhood”, which won the Golden Globe for best picture of the year (I can’t remember seeing a better film—I think it could win best picture of the decade). Anyway…

It was a very, very ‘real’ film—not just for it’s uplifting moments but also for it’s serious, or sad moments. And one of those moments in that movie really resonated with me. It reminded me of the idea that art that resonates with you is usually art where you’re able to recognize a little bit of yourself in it.

And I don’t think that this recognition is a conscious thing at all—I think it’s a instantaneous thing. Can you remember a time when you saw or heard a work of art and you were immediately struck by it? There’s no time to form an opinion, it just hits you like a ton of bricks.

Van Gogh: Six Sunflowers, 1888, oil on canvas.

For me, this happened once in a Philadelphia art museum. I was on a business trip, and had some free time so a co-worker and I went to the museum. There was a big Cezanne exhibit going on, but those lines were too long for us given the time we had so we just decided to go through the other parts of the museum.

I was walking along this sort of curving wall when all of a sudden, I was face-to-face with one of the Van Gough sunflower paintings. I was almost too close to it, but it totally took my breath away instantly.

Up until that point, I had never thought much about Van Gough and his art—I just knew that folks thought he was a master. Seeing reprints of his paintings in books didn’t do much for me, but seeing it in person like that…well, I totally got it then and there.

And the same thing happens in music. Actually—yes! It happened to me while watching “Boyhood”. There was a track over the closing credits that I loved, so I stayed through all the credits to see who it was (It was “Tweedy”, a project from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame, and his son Spencer).

And this thing that I’ll call ‘recognition’ for lack of a better term, is the much same when you fall in love with another person—something just clicks when you’re in the same place or room with them. Who can explain what this really is (just like you can’t explain my reaction to the Van Gough painting or the Tweedy song), but I think what it is– at a deep, fundamental level–is that you’re recognizing something of yourself in that other person. Something deeper and more fundamental than your typical day-to-day existence.

And it’s the same thing when you fall in love with art—whether it be a painting, a song, or any other type of art—you’re recognizing something of yourself in that thing, and that’s what draws you to it.

So, what does this all mean? I don’t know. I guess that great art touches us at a deeper level than most things do in our day-to-day lives. Just like falling in love touches us at a deeper level than just hanging out hanging with your friends or family. That’s why we need art in our lives…or, I guess I should just say, that’s why I need art in my life.

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