Art born in spirit awakens spirit in us. Artists say their talent comes from God. I have heard opera singers say this the most. Singing so powerfully cannot be attained simply through work, so in this case, it is obvious.
A friend, an opera singer, says that according to her mother, she was “born singing.” I was born a visual artist, and I have always known that. Opera is doing well now, but something awful has happened in our society with visual art, and I must speak.
Over the last fifty years, art has become commercialized. In art school in New York, my friends and I would go to galleries in horror. We would say, “They aren’t artists, they have no vision.”
The hijacking of art for money keeps escalating. The word hijacking is not too strong. There are many reasons quality no longer matters, up to and including money laundering. To see the egregious awfulness of commercialized art today, check out the website Artsy. You will likely be shocked.
Lately, pernicious advice regarding the selling of art online has infuriated me. I have read more than once, “You don’t need to be born with talent to be an artist.” And, “You don’t need to be born an artist to sell art.”
I feel helpless to counter such arguments here, so I am calling on the help of someone who can and has.
“The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri was a bible to us in art school. Robert Henri is an American artist who lived from 1865 to 1929. His famous quotes are still popular. He articulates the spirituality of the artist, the transcendence of art, the importance of art to society, and so much more of spine-tingling, eternal value.
He writes, “When the motives of artists are profound, when they are at their work as a result of deep consideration, when they believe in the importance of what they are doing, their work creates a stir in the world.”
That sentence does not apply in the slightest to artists who are motivated by money. They are not profound, they do not consider deeply, they do not believe in anything deep. The only “stir” they make in the world is destructive. “The presence of good art will unconsciously refine a community; poor art will do it incalculable harm.”
“The Art Spirit” also says, “Art is an extension of language to the expression of sensations too subtle for words. It says, “A work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle.” It says, “All real works of art look as though they were done in joy.”
Where in commercialized art is the subtlety, the magnificent struggle, the joy? The public knows about the magnificent struggle and the joy. They know the stories of many artists. They are familiar with “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” about Michelangelo. They do not know that we modern artists want to be great like Michelangelo, but cannot. We are being purposefully shoved out of the way.
What are the consequences for a society that has lost profound art of value? It makes miserable the lives of the real artists pushed to the wayside. It loses their art. It reduces the beauty in our surroundings. Artistic children are unhappy. There are so many social consequences it would take a book to explore them.
A hundred years ago, Robert Henri was already decrying commercialism in art and its effect on society. He writes,
“We are living in a strange civilization. Our minds and souls are so overlaid with fear, with artificiality, that often we do not even recognize beauty. It is this fear, this lack of direct vision of truth, that brings about all the disaster the world holds, and how little opportunity we give any people for casting off fear, for living simply and naturally.
“Fortunately, however, the great, significant, splendid impulse for beauty can force its way through any boundary.”
The boundary of greed and money is strong. But so is spirit. Over time, there is always a corrective. Art born in spirit will come back roaring. It will be stronger than ever.
• Page Bridges is a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.”Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.