Artist’s Musings

a pair of geese flew by; outside my studio window; i’m glad elephants don’t fly

What is Art?

On the true meaning of love, art, and friendship, I think we have definitive answers for the meaning of love and friendship, but how about art? This is a question we often ask ourselves. We ponder about it often. There are different ways artists express themselves on their canvases. There are, to name a few, abstract, impressionist, and realist styles, but one essence* that I feel many of them have in common is the spirit of the artist. Paraphrasing my friend's mother's saying on cooking and baking, "If you did not put the love into it, it will always tastes like it is missing something." 

As with art, such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, acting, singing, or writing, if the love is not in it, the audiences can sense it. They are usually not sure what it is that they are not feeling, but they sense something is missing, and the work does not seem to speak to them. The work becomes soulless, or just another piece of work.

I share this letter that Ansel Adams wrote to his friend Cedric Wright because I feel he so eloquently expressed, at least to my heart, what art is.

In 1936, in the midst of an unrelenting workload and the near-demise of his marriage, legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams suffered a nervous breakdown. After a stay in hospital, desperately in need of escape, Adams then returned with his family to the one place where he could find solace: Yosemite, California.

Some months later, as his health returned, he wrote the following beautiful letter to his best friend, Cedric Wright.

Dear Cedric,

A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that related to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Children are not only of flesh and blood — children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and thoughts and the emotions that are within you, and flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptance of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these.

I wish the thundercloud had moved up over Tahoe and let loose on you; I could wish you nothing finer.


Source: Letters of a Nation.

* This essence is what I like to call, umami (うま味).