What is art actually?

We’d rather leave the answer to the art theorists, because it’s inexhaustible, and we’d rather get down to business soon. The Duden says that art is a “creative creation out of the most diverse materials or with the means of language, sounds in confrontation with nature and the world”. That is short and beautifully formulated and should be enough for us here as an answer. So we quickly get back to the initial question, which can be understood in two ways:

What do people make art for?

The oldest traces of our creative ancestors are about 40,000 years old. But why did people paint the walls of their homes back then? The question cannot be answered unequivocally. Some think it was a religious-ritual act, a contact with the supernatural. Others see in the pictures a form to overcome fears (with the “banishing” of the world onto the wall one could better face its dangers). Perhaps hunting strategies were also discussed on the basis of the pictures. My favourite thesis, however, is that our ancestors simply designed their caves for no purpose at all and just out of desire. We also like to scribble in front of ourselves (exercise books and notepads prove this). And which little child does not decorate sooner or later the room walls with the first crayons?

The cave paintings make two things clear to us

On the one hand, that man by nature has an urge (of whatever kind) to fill empty surfaces with something. This phenomenon connects us over centuries and millennia with our ancestors and mothers. As much as it has changed in the last 40,000 years – art has accompanied our species throughout all this time.

On the other hand, in retrospect, the infinite number of works of art filling space and walls paradoxically leave an infinite number of empty spaces. We can only answer many questions regarding the creation and interpretation of individual works with one “probable”, one “perhaps”. This is not very satisfying, but the sooner we get used to this circumstance, the better. And part of the fascination of art may also lie in this unexplained.

Why do we need art?

Counter-question: Could we do without it? Culture – to broaden the term – is always the first thing when it comes to austerity measures in the public sector. There are indispensable necessities – and culture. So is culture only a luxury that we can afford but do not necessarily need? Ok, if I were on the verge of starvation and had the choice between a loaf of bread and a painting, I would also buy the loaf. Nevertheless, I believe that art is also indispensable for people. In contrast to bread, which perhaps feeds me for two days, art unfolds its meaning only in the long run. But then forever (or as long as it exists). Because it is made by human beings and we are human beings, it automatically has something to do with us, whether we consciously perceive it or not. Even if we are not believers, centuries-old churches fill us with reverence. Even if they belong to cultures that have long since disappeared and no longer have anything to do with our modern life, we feel the importance of old temples, pyramids, etc. And we understand which irreparable loss the deliberate destruction of this heritage (e.g. Palmya) represents.

Art and culture are (as is generally said, that’s why I say it again) the roots, perhaps even the tree, of our collective memory, of our identity. And if we stick to the image of nature, then we are the fruit that grows on it generation after generation – and at some point falls down ripe. But the tree remains as long as we let it stand and treat it well. Without the tree we might just be empty fruit husks or… I don’t know, but we better not try it.

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