Art that Lifts the Spirit
I see two worlds of art, but I struggle to describe the difference between the two.
I hate using the word “decorative” to describe the kind of work that so many artists (including myself!) make, art meant to lift the spirit, to be enjoyed in someone’s home on a daily basis. Besides, what do you then call the other stuff? The work that challenges us? It’s not necessarily nice to look at, and not many people want it hanging over the dining table frowning down at them at every meal, but it’s important stuff nonetheless. It’s educational, mind-expanding, and yes, often very uncomfortable.
I’ve always had trouble knowing what to call these two types of art. Pretty and ugly? I’ll confess to using these tags as an internal shorthand, but they are far too simplistic, not to mention fundamentally inaccurate. After all, some work meant for the home isn’t necessarily pretty: it can be soothing, or contemplative, or just plain weird. And while lots of the challenging stuff is ugly, plenty isn’t. Anyway, “ugly” is subjective, not to mention unnecessarily pejorative. So what then? Hard vs easy? Academic vs commercial? Conceptual vs perceptual? None of these is right.
The other day a fellow artist wrote what I thought was a nice description of the two types of art. Here, with permission, I quote:
There are two kinds of art: “cathartic art” and “chi raising art”.
“Cathartic art” addresses the “story”, the political, social, environmental, etc. subject matters. Many purposes are served by cathartic art both for the artist that creates it and the viewing public. Cathartic art can be beautiful or ugly. Art schools and a lot of curators love cathartic art.
“Chi raising art” is beautiful art. It raises the energy of the space and the viewer and makes one feel good to be alive. The heart leaps when in the presence of a truly beautiful piece of art. Beautiful art tends to be vilified in art school as being trite and superficial when, in fact, it touches the soul and is the highest level of art because it shifts the vibrational frequency to a higher plane, away from fear and pain. The buying public, generally, loves chi raising art.
Now, I don’t personally buy into such notions as “chi” and “vibrational energy”. (It’s the hardnosed scientist in me.) But I still thought this was a very good summation of what, exactly, we artists are trying to do. And by “us” I do mean all of us, both the academics intent on making a statement, and those of us creating beauty to be enjoyed and lived with. There’s room for both kinds.