For my first blog post I thought I would address the most commonly asked question I get asked: Why Art? This question often comes about with further queries about what its like to work in the art world, and what on earth made me choose to centre my life around it in the first place. Often, what comes to mind as I frantically try to invent some sort of coherent answer is an image. This may be any image that has lingered in my mind long after I have seen it. By reflecting back on an image, such as the one below, I can confidently answer the question, and remind myself why indeed art is so important. The image shows a young woman, typically beautiful, with her soft gaze directed skyward. She is clothed in a blue dress with contrasting sleeves of vivid green and a red cloak with mustard lining covers one side of her body.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Raphael, c.1507, oil on wood, 28.4 x 21.9 in, The National Gallery, London (Source: Wikipedia)
Just by looking for slightly longer than a glance, you, the viewer can establish the basic structure of the image and your curiosity might be stimulated enough to go a little bit further. Can you spot the glimpse of a halo above her head? Or the thin golden rays protruding from the sky? Can you appreciate how the sitter’s body is contorted, with one leg clearly in front of the other? Her gaze mimics the positioning of her front leg but is simultaneously turned in the opposite direction of her hand that rests softly against her chest, a pose suggestive of awe and admiration.
It is from simple observations such as these that sparked my curiosity about art. Once I started to look, I mean really and truly look, at a work of art I began to ask question after question and quickly found myself wanting to know more. For instance, the image in question is an inherently religious image. The sitter is the martyr Saint Catherine of Alexandria, as shown by her ‘Catherine wheel’ at her side that is subtly covered by her red drapery. But its deep theological meaning does not have to be its first and last word. For someone not familiar with the symbolism of various saints (and, as I’ve found, there are an awful lot of them), this image may just be a simple and pure representation of a young woman in a state of deep contemplation. Even so, the image brings forth a direct religious message. Saint Catherine’s martyrdom illustrates her love for Jesus Christ and willingness to die for her beliefs, whilst shedding light on the overarching peace and tranquillity in her story.
If this image were to hang in your place of work, what would you feel as you walked past it? Even if it is nothing longer than a breath, art causes one to feel. This can mean a brand new and exciting feeling, something you may have not felt before. Or, it can raise a deep-rooted feeling to the surface, maybe one you have been trying to process for some time. For others, an image can be simply an image without any lasting impact. Whatever the reaction, art holds a unique and explorative place in our world that can satisfy one’s curiosity and remind us of the beauty that life can create.
The art world is dynamic and constantly changing. With this change comes excitement, fresh ideas, and new discoveries, with many more waiting to be announced to the world. But the arts also offer us stability and tranquillity from the business of the fast-paced modern world and provide a respite for many, myself included. So, the next time somebody asks, ‘Why Art?’, think back to a moment when a work of art made you stop and look for a little while, or when one image raised a series of questions in your mind, and consider that your answer.