art as universal language

Art as Magic Glue by Jeannine Cook

Christmas Eve is one of those moments in the calendar when each of us stops and thinks of family and friends, an important milepost as each year turns to a new one. As I write holiday messages and receive lovely cards of greeting, I am struck ever more forcibly by the realisation that art has been the magic which has created so many of these friendships.

If one ever doubted the universality of the power of art to communicate and celebrate, then it is at times like this holiday season that that doubt should be dissipated. From the beauty of music, choral or orchestral, to productions of the Nutcracker delighting audiences all over the world at this time, to exhibitions of beautiful art on the walls of museums and - in my personal case - to the sharing of the love of art, the links become a sparkling, complex yet elastic web. Diverse optics and backgrounds, languages and ages can all find common ground in enjoyment of art and - more generally - the arts.

The creation of art takes an interesting trajectory. Most times, the work of art is created as a private, personal expression of one person, a work often created in solitude and thought and often, flat-out hard work. But once created, that work takes wing and is launched into the wider world, where it can find an audience that ranges from totally indifferent to highly receptive and appreciative. Art is defined in Britannica Online as "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments and experiences that can be shared with others." Man has been creating art in one form or another since time immemorial, with a diversity of goals that range from self-expression to pure creativity. Art can be used to express ideas, be they political, philosophical or spiritual, to evoke a sense of beauty, to explore perceptions, to generate a variety of emotions from pleasure to solemnity, awe or grief - or none of the above. Art for art's sake is a well-known concept in our times. Art, in any form, is nonetheless a form of communication that everyone can understand.

Today we all regard art as a universal language, irrespective of who exactly has ownership of the actual work of art. Copyright ownership is indeed important, for that forms part of the earning capacity of an artist, but nonetheless, there is a wider philosophical consideration that has been around for many centuries. Who truly "owns" a work of art, once it has reached the level of widespread recognition and appreciation? Many people consider art as an essential ingredient for human life, vital for a quality of life that is uplifting and beneficial. Thus, it is reasoned, art cannot just belong to a privileged few.

The first public museum was founded in 1753, in England, when Sir Hans Soane bequeathed a huge art collection to King George II for the benefit of the nation, a bequest which was ratified by an Act of Parliament for the creation of the British Museum.

Hans Sloane, Stephen Slaughter, 1736, (Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London)

Hans Sloane, Stephen Slaughter, 1736, (Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London)

Another early manifestation of this idea of art belonging to everyone was the creation, in 1793, of the first French public art museum, the Louvre. The King of France's magnificent collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture and other objects became the people's collection of art, housed in the Louvre and available to all for enjoyment and inspiration. Throughout the world, this lofty idea of art as a universal form of enriching communication was adopted. Thus, the great museums we know today, from Madrid's El Prado, (created in 1819), Berlin's Altes Museum, built in 1830 as the first of the collection of art and archaeological museums on Berlin's Museum Island , to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870) in New York, came into existence. By the 20th century, the idea that art is an essential ingredient of human society was so widely accepted that Diego Rivera could declare categorically, "Art is the universal language. It belongs to all mankind."

Small wonder that on a personal basis, each of us artists find that the art we create proves to be a magical glue that unites us with a wide, diverse and wondrous community of friends, all sharing a love of art. What richness - and what a renewed gift at this time of seasonal celebrations. Happy holidays to you all, my friends and fellow art-lovers!