What is it all for?

About this time last year, give or take a few months, I settled into one of the oldest continually operating theaters with my grandmother, mother, and fiancé to watch Monument’s Men. It was one of the few movies that I actually had an itch to see when it came out. I had pretty big expectations that I would enjoy this movie- and while some may disagree- it didn’t disappoint. Art has always been an integral part of who I am and the movie raised a highly debated topic.

My mom raised me with a love of books and my dad raised me with an appreciation for the visual arts. If we had bookshelves (we were more like book stackers) you would have found stories ranging from C.S. Lewis to Jane Austen and coffee table books documenting Van Gogh and Picasso, as well as prints on the walls. You could even say that my siblings and long car rides made me a music lover (but does anyone not like music?). I couldn’t imagine life without art in all its outlets, and I remember feeling a sense of human accomplishment when taking an art history class. It felt like a whirlwind.

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So, why does it matter? Why would people take the time to want to save it?

I’ve asked myself that a lot since watching that movie. Whether or not it was a good movie, it implanted that question in my mind and it has never really left. I work in art every day. In the past month I have opened the horizons of my mind to The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Antigone, and The Rāmāyana of Vālmīki, all important texts spanning the globe. I have read Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Aristotle, and Machiavelli. Over the summer, my stomach tensed reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and James Baldwin’s “Going to Meet the Man” as the taboo of political correctness became intimate.

I am approached as an English major with caution. Not many realize it is art and not many realize it has a purpose other than being a teacher. While I respect teachers, I do not think I have the passion it takes to be one. Can you imagine the look when I tell people, “No, I don’t want to teach.” I used to cross my arms, moving inwards on the defensive. Yet as I move closer to saying goodbye to being a student immersed up to her head in literature and big ideas, I’m starting to understand the bigger picture about art and why it is so priceless. Why we should protect it.

It is humanity’s soul.

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I think sometimes people look at a $17,000 painting and miss the innate value. The funny thing about art is we are always trying to put a price on it. Whether it is high art or not. Whether it was painted by da Vinci or not.

But at the end of the day, there is a person out there, maybe a little girl like I was, sitting in her room on a particularly rough day when she started to realize that growing up isn’t as easy as it had seemed a year ago. That the reality of life has a bitterness to it that at some point in time you taste and it never really leaves— that is the day when she looks at the print of a Monet painting and can escape into the colors or maybe hear some kind, reassuring words from a page. In those moments, when I think about a book like The Giver and a world without any art or “beauty,” then I can understand why mankind would do anything to save some old tattered painting signed by some old dead guy who decided to paint a girl with an unusual smile.

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Through out our lives, I imagine our small existence builds these great big walls to shelter us from out there. Our world view shrinks and becomes defined by so little. Art, literature— that raw human experience— shatters that small window and perspectives widen and horizons broaden. I’ll never forget how I felt after watching Paradise Now directed by Hany Abu-Assad, feeling my perspectives shifting, or crying quietly after watching La Haine directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. I still don’t know what I think about the controversial topics they explore, but I feel like they’ve made me more human. All art may not speak to us as much as the next person, but it does say something. It says something about who we are.

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***When I say art, I’m referring to all of it.

****All pictures from Pinterest or Google Images

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