The spectator is the one who decides what a particular piece of art is all about. Depending on how much we’re educated, what kind of an emotional state we’re in and if we just want to cock around a gallery, trying to persuade fellow gallery visitors that we invented art history itself, the meaning of a particular art piece — the same art piece — will change drastically.
But this is nothing new. The point I would like to take home today is a strictly utilitarian one, the real question is: How can we use this fact to our advantage, both as creators and spectators of art?
The Reality check.
Panta Rhei or everything flows is a wonderful concept by the old Greek philosopher Heraclitus and describes this point exceptionally well. We are in a constant state of flux of motion and emotion; as time progresses, we might not really be in tune with the small, minuscule changes that we make during a particular time of our lives — especially if it’s a shorter timespan like a year or even less.
It’s like growing out your hair; nothing happens for about a month or two and you slowly stop checking it in your bathroom mirror every morning, then you wake up one day and you’re going full blown Alice Cooper in the hair department. Art is that mirror. But instead of showing us the progression of hair growth, it can show us the growth of our character. And where we might have gone astray.
What we believed 10 years ago shouldn’t equal what we believe right now.
And I am talking about everything; questions and beliefs about morality, happiness, our life goals… Everything should have evolved in some way. Some beliefs intensify, some fade, while others stay absolutely the same without us ever noticing.
Now while that dream of wanting to be a rockstar as a kid might obviously have been changed to wanting to be a graphic designer, illustrator or whatever — here the change isn’t really hard to spot — the problem arises with questions like: “What do I want in life?”, “What makes me happy?” and “Am I a good person?”
How can we track changes in our position towards such topics?
Each one of us should have one piece of art; it doesn’t have to be a painting, sculpture or anything that the art world would deem a “real” piece of art — some of you might have your grandfather’s watch (like I do), or some other dear object that was given to you by someone you loved (or still do). But it has to be something of real importance, because it has to be overflowing with a story you can relate to on the deepest levels of your being.
To look at that one piece or art, that one object we chose to be the mirror to our progression through life, is to see exactly where we are now. Because if we are attentive to what we see, we will spot the different attitudes we form towards it over time and the changes in our perspective that caused them.
My grandfather’s watch is and always will be the same gold-plated Lanco watch he got as a parting gift from the army, but what I see in it will change along with the changes I make within myself.
When he fist gave it to me, I saw a promise to do the right thing, no matter how hard — I still do and I know this will never change — but now I also see a small lie that has crept into the story.
I see a hint of me wishing to have some form of power, some form of real influence to change things and to show everybody that I am going to make something out of myself, despite what a lot of them believe.
And I really don’t like it to be there in that form, to be a part of the story that has been building up around that watch, because it’s not a pleasant one. For me it shines light on a toxic need for acceptance and outside approval and is more or less just a hinderance to growth — compared to the power of genuine confidence, that comes from within.
And that’s something I have been slowly removing from my life for some time now. The watch tells me I have to work a bit harder on getting this idea completely out of my system.
And yet, it’s still “just” a watch.
As creatives, we should work hard and get exceptionally proficient at distilling stories and making containers for such stories. We should take good care of finding the right people to give these neatly packed-up stories to and maybe even teach them a bit on how to slowly and steadily unravel the gift wrap and play with the contents of our creations.
Each of us and each of our customers, friends and colleges should have at least one such “thing” in their life. Because it is one of the most effective compasses that is able to lead each of us to our own north star. To travel where we really want to go, not where everybody else wanted us to go while we convinced ourselves it was what we wanted as well.