‘If you love it here, you love the bleakness and the vast flat sky and landscape.’
A few weeks ago, I listened to someone explain why Norfolk meant so much to him both as an artist and as a place to live. The conversation came back to me this week at a meeting of French cultural managers, at which I heard many participants speak of art’s transcendence. I had the impression of an almost sacred practice that gave access to an experience of universal meaning, beyond the material world. Kant’s legacy remains very influential in Western art, and its servants.
Having spent my working life in this field, I’m also convinced of art’s importance, while recognising what the French call a ‘déformation professionnelle’—the distortion that comes from seeing the world through the lens of one’s daily occupation. I believe that art is a way of knowing unlike others, which is why humans have invented it: that idea is the foundation of the thinking documented in this site and the associated publications.
By now you will be expecting a ‘but’: here it is. I believe that art is a way of knowing unlike others, but that doesn’t make it more important than the others. It is one device in the toolbox of human understanding. It is particularly suited to certain kinds of experience. But other tools and other experiences can be equally valuable. People find transcendence in nature, in religion, in science, in relationships, in sport and elsewhere. Very often, they are as convinced of the universal good they have experienced as those who advocate so zealously for art.
The Norfolk painter came to mind because, like many people with a personal rather than a professional interest in art, he spoke as passionately of walking the fields, seeing a hare or watching an old plane as he did of the images in which he tried to capture these fleeting moments.
To value one kind of experience, one glimpse beyond the selfish and material, does not require a rejection of all others. Life is not a zero-sum game. The heart is capacious.