Art: A Basic Necessity of Life

By Spencer, Barbara Cook | The Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2009 | Go to article overview

Art: A Basic Necessity of Life


Spencer, Barbara Cook, The Christian Science Monitor


I can't remember a time when I wasn't an artist, and so I can't remember ever thinking that art and beauty weren't completely necessary to life, as important as daily bread. But I never thought too much about the place of art in others' lives or how important or trivial it might be to them. Over the years, though, I began to perceive that art was considered by many, even most, people, to be a luxury - caviar - and not daily bread at all.

My rudest awakening on this subject came when I was visiting Britain years ago. I loved driving through the countryside, staying on farms and in small bed-and-breakfast places, and visiting country stores. One day, I stopped at a little store that made its own cheese every day.

There was only one salesperson there, a young woman with snappy, black curls, who had the look of someone with a cheese doctorate. I decided to ask a few questions, but the more I asked, the more amazed she became that anyone could be so ignorant of dairy products. I think my fatal question was the one about whether or not they sold the cheese they had made that very morning. A look of total exasperation came over her face. She stopped weighing my wedge of cheese, arched her back slightly, and said with a snap that matched her curls, "Don't you know nothin' about cheese?"

The whole thing was so incongruous, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Suddenly, and without thinking, I blurted out, "No. Do you know anything about art?" I thought perhaps I'd had the last word. But she looked at me for a moment and then said, "No. But that's not something you have to do with every day, and cheese is!"

That made me finally realize that art, to most people, wasn't a basic necessity at all. For most, it wasn't inseparable from day-to- day experience. It wasn't the equivalent of "daily bread."

And yet I knew that people could no more survive this human experience without our "art food" than we could survive without eating. Is it possible to imagine all of the basic forms that surround us without their characteristic clothing of uniqueness? What if trees, animals, and human beings, for example, were all the same, with only generic identities?

It may sound as though I'm describing a world without individuality and that I'm inferring that a world without individuality is a world without art. But isn't it? Isn't individuality really life's art? After all, we share identical qualities, have identical feelings and longings, so we'd all be exactly the same if we didn't each express these qualities, feelings, and longings differently from everyone else.

And isn't that what paintings and sculptures, symphonies and songs are all about? …

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