I was eating dinner and browsing the little internet when I came across this post and I paused. The reason wasn’t because of artistic mastery or fame, but rather that it was one of the few times I had seen art explicitly for the purveyors. More simply, these colorful and beautiful wall murals were carefully chosen to bring life into a place of sickness and sometimes death, and be specifically targeted to bring joy to its viewers, the child and adult patients of the hospital.
I paused. I thought about how art is typically displayed, on a wall and in a frame, and how it’s advertised, with a focus on the creator and his or her life and some profound meaning that the work is supposed to represent. I’ve always disliked this culture. Art, if you think about it in this light, is very narcissistic. You go to galleries or museums and they emphasize the artist. To be fair, I am not saying that artists are bad, or that all artists are into themselves, but rather that the society we live in has made it a very stuffy and self-focused practice. The emphasis I think should be on the viewer or purveyor, and some unexpected joy or feeling that appreciating the art brings to their life. The experience of some artistic endeavour should be so seamlessly embedded into our lives that we don’t concretely recognize it as art, but instead just find ourself feeling something. But instead the typical experience is needing to physically go to a gallery or museum, be sometimes forced into small talk or retreating to a tiny snacks table, and then staring blankly at some highly respected work and asking yourself “Why don’t I feel anything?”
Here we had the opposite. The paintings on the walls are literally broken out of the constraint of a frame. They are part of the environment. As a viewer I am immersed in color and taken to another world. Even through the limited lens of my browser portal I feel something. It’s fun, and maybe a bit magical. I’m drawn to want to walk through the blue halls with sea creatures and life, and marvel at the detail. Having spent quite a bit of time in hospitals in my early adult life, my memories of dull, yellow walls and cold, uncomfortable rooms might have been so different. Seriously, look at the difference!
So in a way, I think it’s ironic that art is supposed to be an experience for the viewer but somehow our society makes it about the artist. It’s ironic that so many artists, arguably creative folks, limit themselves to a framed canvas that can be hung in a gallery with their name beside it instead of asking “Where can I literally or figuratively paint on the walls to bring people joy? I don’t care about my name being on it.”
So shout out to the street artists, bakers, architects, gardeners, designers, and other (somewhat) anonymous artists that make beautiful (sometimes temporary) creations from St. Louis to San Francisco. We see you, and we know that your creations are specifically to give someone else joy. They are selfless. And if your work is shown to some of these “serious artists” and they turn up their nose and comment about lack of sophistication, skill, or some other nonsense? Just ignore them, and remember the number of people that have smiled or felt something because of your work. Your work probably touches people every day, and they might not even notice it, and that’s a good thing. And if you are a more traditional, paint-in-a-frame and sign it kind of artist? Maybe you should ask how you can work to remove yourself from the picture, and to create something unique that will be encountered and bring joy or other emotion that richens the human experience. Or maybe you already do that, and you’re good! Either way, to all artists of the world that produce art for your own joy, and further, make it for the people that you hope to see it and not for your own self-promotion, I salute you.