Why Art?

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a room with blank beige walls, beige carpet. a room void of thoughtful design: rectangular beige canvas furniture, no comforting curves. straight beige lamps with square canvas shades. windows with beige mini-blinds. no sculpture stands anywhere in the room. no photos sit on the end tables. no glossy art books on the coffee table. surrounding walls provide no shelves for any other books. no piano in the corner. leave this room and go to the kitchen. beige formica counters. beige appliances. beige linoleum floor. wander through the rest of the house. the bedrooms are all beige. beige beds. beige drapes. clothes in the closet are all beige khaki. beige bathroom. beige toilet. beige shower. there’s an entertainment room down the hallway. one television that plays one station that has one show. there’s a playroom for the kids. one beige toy box that contains one beige box of beige blocks.

okay, what about the yard. surely there are flowers out there? surely there is a garden? no, without design, the yard is merely a patch of neglected dirt and a few parched native plants. you stare at the bedraggled weeds. they become a focal point. you find beauty in the pale green leaves, droopy as they are, yet so refreshing to see. you look around for something else. there’s a tree beyond your backyard fence. off in the field. you walk out there. into the leg-tickling grasses. you sit in the shade of that lonely tree. you look up through its twinkling leaves. you notice the light skipping on your arms and across your feet. you watch it frolic upon the field. you think that it would be fun to dance with those droplets of light. you feel something crawl across your leg. it’s a beetle. not beige. it sports a luminous aquamarine jacket that changes to a deep shimmering emerald as the bug descends back to its grassy world. you watch him disappear. you get lost in the content of the ground. the colors. the textures. the inhabitants. a hummingbird hovers nearby sucking nectar from a scarlet flowering weed. you marvel at the colors emanating from the bird’s feathers. you feel the slight breeze from the speedy wings flapping near your face. you think how helicopters were invented. twilight descends. shadows deepen. sunset pours onto the horizon like a bowl of orange sherbet. you wish you had a spoon. stars slowly appear in the night sky. you can’t stop looking up. your eyes scanning the expanse like a satellite beam. why are they so beautiful? why do they sparkle? why are they clustered? why aren’t they scattered uniformly like polka dots? why isn’t the night sky pure black? how would you feel if it was? how would you feel if the daytime sky was beige?


I found an article entitled, “Why Art? – that is the Question” from the New York Times of March 27, 1921. Along with the title question, the article asked, “What was it that impelled the hairy, stoop-shouldered aborigine of perhaps a hundred thousand years ago to indulge in an effort entirely unrelated to his stomach or his safety?” Why did our ancestors decorate their cave walls?

Why art? Why paint? Why draw? Why sing? Why dance? Why act? Why write? Hasn’t there been enough of this produced already? How much more art do we need? For that matter, do we need art at all?

Anaïs Nin said, “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” I think that statement can be applied to any art form. Take music for example. How many of us have a favorite song that speaks to our soul, lifts our spirit? Yet, how many of us have the talent to produce such a song nor the voice to perform it? I don’t know about you, but I am filled with appreciation for the artists who create and share their work.

Art is the great connector. In these times when people are becoming more disconnected, more polarized, more divisive, art pulls our common humanity into one voice. A voice that speaks for what the majority crave: peace. Art helps us to communicate. Art gives us the courage to express ourselves freely. Art is the ultimate expression of freedom. That’s why artists are always the first ones to be imprisoned during times of revolution. I feel strongly about the role of artists in any society. They must be protected. Supported. Art is about growth. Without art, there is no chance for innovation, invention, community progress nor economic development. Art is about survival.

Art is the opposite of war.

Ed Stern, Producing Artistic Director for “Playhouse in the Park” in Cincinnati, made a comment in support of that statement:

“So much of wartime is talking about evil and who we hate. The arts can so much more easily show us what we believe in. Theater specifically shows us the roots and threads that tie people together far more than the differences that tear us apart.”

If theater and art in general, provide this common need, then why do the arts struggle to stay alive?

Arts organizations are notoriously timid and when they have to justify their existence, they will usually give economic reasons first because artists think that the community only wants them around if they contribute monetarily. It’s difficult to measure how art improves the quality of our lives and strengthens social ties.

Money is equated with survival. But let’s think about that for a moment. Any nation’s economy is based on the health of their business and commerce. In order to remain competitive, businesses go to great lengths to hire and retain what they refer to as “talent” or the “best and the brightest.” Successful companies reside where there is a rich art and culture scene in order to provide an environment where their employees can be stimulated, enriched and refreshed. Forward-thinking and shrewd executives know this. Innovative thinkers do not grow from the landscape of our homogenized lives. Contrary to popular belief, inspiration does not come as a thunderbolt out of an otherwise quiet night. No, inspiration and innovation have to be cultivated. Art, in its many forms, provides such fertile ground. Civilization cannot grow and prosper without art.

In these tight economic times when decisions are being made that are shortsighted and prohibitive against progress, please consider going against this tide and support your local arts!


About Kathleen Franks

Kathleen Franks is a writer, artist, storyteller, and community volunteer based in Berkeley, CA
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