Why is the painting the ‘Mona Lisa’ a part of our collective consciousness? I’ve seen it several times and it’s just nothing to be thrilled about. But the idea of it is interesting. Why is it so iconic? In fact on viewing the Mona Lisa for the first time, you get a thrill. It is like bumping into George Clooney – OMG he’s real! It is that kind of feeling. On closer inspection it’s just a painting. But the idea of it, the glow of its celebrity status keeps millions of people lined up to see it all year long.
Are people going to see a painting or is it something else? Perhaps people want to experience a fragment of their own mortality lit up like a nova. That is what art can do; it can capture the ineffable aspect of humanity that makes us great, or at least feel greatness. We deeply need to have impact while alive and a simple portrait of a smirking young lady is a signal to us that we can, we will. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t Da Vinci’s best painting. What matters is that this slight form of self expression has been etched on our psyches, not unlike a bison on a wall in cave made forty thousand years ago.
I think art is our most important act, as important as procreation. I honestly believe this because we know who we are through art whether it is writing on a scroll, broken columns of an acropolis, or a tiny ring made for the Queen when she was a girl. We need to arrive here first I agree, but why exist if not to discover something extraordinary about ourselves?
When I am asked where I get my ideas from for this column I usually say I try to write about issues that affect me as an artist. What the heck does that have to do with the Highlands? Living here gives me a unique perspective; I see myself as the local content in my columns.
So much of what gets written about in the arts today is of a promotional style. Granted most artists need their work to be seen and self promotion is extremely important. But what I think is lacking in the arts is real discussion. Discussion about issues that impact the arts in general and philosophies that go straight into the heart of what an artist does.
Art is a serious profession which deserves the same amount of writing as any other profession. If anyone ever complains about too much art coverage all they need to do is look at the business section of any newspaper and compare. Aside from the arts being an economic generator that employs people it is also a nexus for deep and provocative thought.
What I hope I can do is make art part of a wider important discussion. Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.” It was my quote in my high school year book. Admittedly at the time I thought Chrissie Hynde had actually said it, and then was somewhat miffed at her when I came across it in one of Wilde’s plays. But it is essentially what I think.
When I moved to the Highlands over a decade ago I came with very little understanding of what it was to be rural and live in a place like this. I was living in a warehouse in Parkdale, Toronto – a neighbourhood as different from here as you can get. Except that it isn’t.
People everywhere need to be inspired and feel some sense of something grander about their life and their time on earth. Highlanders are no exception. To me, everyone’s desires are important even though they differ, and perhaps we can be inspired as much by our differences as our similarities; whether they are in a warehouse in Parkdale or living in Wildberforce.
Of course people’s life in the city is much different in many practical ways than in the Highlands; we are spread out, have to drive everywhere, things close in the early evening, and we triple in population in the summer, but we want to see something interesting and challenge our selves equally.
I don’t write about a lot of local specifics because I don’t see things that way. I spend a lot of time in the city and it is still my home to a certain extent too. I need to travel there often because I can’t make a living in the Highlands as an artist. I’m not complaining; it is just the way it is. Frankly, there is no way I could have the studio I have here anywhere else and that’s a fact.
I feel lucky to be an artist here and enjoy sharing the trials and tribulations that go along with being one. But I’m always going to write as someone who is looking at those stars.