We're not all about politics – fortunately, there is art

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Fortunately, politics does not entirely define the human condition. We are better than that.

Many things make the human species special. For example, art is uniquely human.

It has been said that no matter where you go in the world, in just about every little dwelling you can find, you will find art. It may be very modest. A child’s drawing. A photograph. A picture torn from a magazine. But there will be something. Because art brings meaning.

I am no artist, yet I find myself filling my walls with it. When I first bought my current house, I had all of the walls painted white. I had the silly thought that I would find one perfect painting to place elegantly, alone, on each wall. By now, of course, there is more clutter on my walls than on my kitchen counter. My friends who are artists or gallery owners assure me that there is always room for another little something. I have abandoned the sparse aesthetic.

You may prefer a seascape, a still life or John Singer Sargent. I favor Maine artists, and am open to many styles and media. I happen to especially like abstract expressionism, but my particular tastes don’t matter, because each of us finds value in art based on our own personality.

We may look for art that simply brings pleasure and preserves a memory, or tells a story. Or we may seek art which confirms us, challenges us, explores visions and experiences outside of our own, or reaches emotional heights and depths that are well beyond us. Nietzsche thought that we use art to escape life.

Art is not reserved for the wealthy. Many people think that they have neither the vocabulary nor the wherewithal for art. Balderdash. Art comes in all price points, to suit any budget. And you can always make your own. A piece of paper and a pencil will do.

The economics of the art business are daunting. (Don’t choose art as an investment. A lottery ticket is a better bet.) I have seen several galleries open and close here in southern Maine. But even as some galleries are empty, the museums seem full. The Portland Museum of Art has just revealed its two-year redesign. Twenty percent more of its collection is on display, along with better lighting, more conveniences  and better security. Admission is free on Friday evenings.

Those of us familiar with the PMA will at first find the changes disorienting. Favorite pieces have moved. Walls are not where we expect them to be. The huge marble sculpture of “The Dead Pearl Diver” has somehow been relocated to an entirely different floor. But the new arrangement is liberating, enlightening, educational. Instead of being organized by period, the pieces are now more thematically arranged. In the current turn of phrase, the works are “in conversation” with each other and with the viewer.

We are also lucky to have the Maine College of Art in Portland, with its classes, exhibitions and even an annual fashion show in May.

Yes, for me, collecting is fun. You will find me adjusting track lighting in my home, or using a toothbrush to clean a Rodin reproduction, closing my eyes and turning a shade of red when reaching the more personal parts. We all have hobbies.

Truth be told, I can’t have enough of art. But I think it is specious to believe that we ever actually “own” art. The artist imbues a piece with life and energy, and gives it to the world. Then art lives or fades as it makes its own journey.

Granted, art is not a daily concern for most people. Yet it is essential. We crave expressions of the ineffable. If we cannot make art ourselves, we need art around us. It makes us bigger than we are. Art helps us see with different, and sometimes better, eyes than our own.

Mark D. Grover is a resident of Gray. Your comments may be sent to feedback@markdgrover.com