life design music photography home us film art fashion global notes archive links
This article can be found in Issue 3 (p9) of Vhcle Magazine.
2010: Why Art?
 design fashion film music art photography global notes life
Our federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is a paltry one hundred sixty three million (about 52 cents per person; contrast that with about 2213 dollars per person for the military budget). This goes out as grants to performing arts organizations like ballet and modern dance groups, symphonies, jazz bands and theatrical organizations. It also goes to support youth art programs, civic festivals, and cultural events. The perception that the majority of that money goes as grants to private artists to fund culturally insulting paintings and sculptures is far, far off the mark. Yet that is what many of our politicians would have us believe.
Britain is the lowest of all of Europe, providing only 900 million dollars in public funding for art (15 dollars per person), whereas Italy provides 100 billion dollars per year on public art (1670 dollars per person). Admittedly, Italy has many antiquities and centuries-old art to be preserved, yet there is a deep understanding of the importance of the living breathing art community as well. The levels of sophistication evidenced in popular art in many cultures often reveals, in contradistinction, an opaque lack of depth in much American popular art. It is the sort of cardboard stand-up surface treatment of good-tough-guy-versus-bad-mean-guy character portrayals, lacking the depth of subtlety that cultures which are immersed in a more deeply developed artistic sense are able to see beyond quite naturally.
Why art? Maybe the easiest answer is that it is an inescapable act of recording the reflections of the world and life. It is hardwired into our existence, and the embrace of that reality is not just a nice little extra addition to being human, but an essential means of processing our experience that provides depth and meaning to this flood of perception.
I cringe when I hear adults ridiculing their own lack of artistic development, and often wonder whose voice was planted there so many years ago that dissuaded that innate drive. Everyone is creative. We create our days, our speech, our appearance, our children. How much easier it is to push colors around a rectangle, to dance, to shape clay, to sing. The value is in the doing, not in the product. Let no one tell you the quality of your creations. If others wish to enjoy them, fine. But they are not submitted for anyone's approval but the self you were when you were creating it. While others are arguing about art, continue to create. You do anyway.                                  
Tim Sunderman is a Graphic Designer in the San Francisco Bay Area whose first love is drawing and painting, tries to avoid computers until there is no other recourse, and because there is no other recourse, yearns for the open spaces. Tim is a graduate from the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and majored in Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a college art and design instructor and freelance artist.
To see more of Tim’s work, visit:
Artwork (above):
Phillip Hua
Read other articles as well as see Tim’s photography work by Tim:
The question is clear enough, and not entirely rhetorical. Why art? It's an issue pushed closer to the surface by tough economic conditions. Is it prudent to spend money on art when it's difficult to afford food and rent? But the question itself has inherent limitations in its preconceptions – namely that art is something to be purchased. It is probably a more beneficial point of view to think of art as a process, a doing, rather than as a product. Then the inescapable and unanswerable question intrudes back into the discourse: what is art?
In all the exhaustive treatises, articles, musings, and humorous comments that I have seen, I have yet to come across one that really elucidates the essence of art in an insightful way. Likewise, I have nothing to offer here that will advance the definition, but only suggest a rough approximation for the sake of trying to gauge the relative importance of art.
What is art? Art is our arranged reflection of what it is to be human, or in its larger sense, our being-hood. It is important to understand that it is an arrangement, even if just framing an otherwise naturally occurring scene, such as a photograph. The very act of pointing a camera is itself an act of reflection, aesthetic or otherwise. The motions of dance are a reflection of emotions and reactions to rhythms. The proportions of a doorway are a reflection of human height and width. Transcendent images of spirituality, religious or not, try to engage our own questions of transcendence, reaching to the core of our humanness. Trivial or over-arching, mundane or rare, practical or simply for the sake of beauty, all these efforts are art (perhaps some more widely engaging than others).
In fact, it can be argued that it is difficult to find products of human construction or arrangement that do not bear the mark of aesthetic reflection. Every box, carton, bottle, and package for sale is adorned with design. And why? To sell more products is the obvious answer. But that elicits the next question – why do aesthetic arrangements sell more products? A different example, devoid of commercial exchange, is an iron railing I saw running along a public cement stairway. Its surface was elegantly fluted and curved, finely curled under in a tapering spiral at its end – but for what purpose? Why take the effort for such precise proportions? The utilitarian aspects of safety and functionality could have easily been fulfilled by a simple rectangular bar bent back at its end to prevent puncture wounds. So why is there this nearly universal preference for the "nice one"?
It is a human compulsion to create art. Art is all around us. Why art? Why not art?
It is difficult to find evidence of humans without art. Modern humans are thought to be around one hundred thousand years old. But evidence of art (one example – elephant rock in India sculpted and with a cupule, or cup – shaped modification) is eight hundred thousand years old according to Robert Bednarik, a preeminent researcher of paleolithic art. He also cites thousands of examples of art-like products, such as geometric engravings, pendants and beads, cupules, linear petroglyphs, and protofigurines that are hundreds of thousands of years old. We were making art long before we were the species that we now recognize as human, is essentially what he is saying.
So, the perception of art being promoted by so much of our culture as being "an elitist pursuit of the idle rich and effectively irrelevant to the average American" is patently propaganda. However, there is a significant deficiency in the American cultural engagement with the arts when compared to many other countries. The National Endowment for the Arts published the results of a 2008 survey that showed only one in six Americans attend art museums or galleries. In almost all European countries, that number exceeds ninety percent.