Life as Art

‘Life as Art’ – it is a statement we hear and see in social media a lot, but, what does that even mean? How can life be art? My life does not seem like art, (AT ALL)! Even if I tried, I don’t think my life could be art, or maybe I’m missing something-

I guess I need to start by having a definition of ‘art’ that reflects life lived. So, what is art? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Here is an example of this statement discussed, which goes to show some genuine thoughts but also some skepticism around it. To really dig into this statement or cliché, I’m going to look at the words separately.

Enjoying Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery in Titirangi, Auckland.

Art

I guess art can be many things to many people, for me art has quite a few meanings and functions in modern society. Firstly, there is a type of ‘art-world’, where certain people have some sort of authority to say that something is or isn’t art. A curator in a gallery or museum has this authority, or an art dealer or agent, they have art knowledge and the rest of us tend to follow their lead. However, this stems from a westernized system of success where art can be ranked and classified. Arts ability to be valued befits our commodity driven culture. Art becomes, just another ‘thing’, that we can purchase.

However, art can also tell us something. First it can tell a culture of who it is, or, historically speaking, it can tell a culture of another time, or another way of life. There is something in art that reflects human endeavours, beliefs, behaviour and so on. It can move our emotion, tap into feelings we forgot we had. It can also insight passion, desire and a drive us towards something. Art has also been used in religions to share stories, reveal higher powers, connect us with something greater.

So, what is art? It is made by us, it can communicate ideas, it can be bought and sold, and it can be subjectively ranked into high art, low art, media-art, craft… and so forth. I’m still not sure I’m closer to the ‘Life as Art’ statement.

Is this where performance artists come in, is their experience of life a work of art? Artists like, Marina Abrmovic, Judy Chicago or Yoko Ono, where their performances are lived and individuals (like me) can watch, interact with, or learn of how these artists engage with life. These performances can be perceived similarly to the definitions of art that I previously mentioned. There is a great article, Life as Art, Art as Life: Meeting Linda Montano [+ My Video Art Response], by Rachel Znerold that discusses performance art, which is worth a read.

However, where would the definition of performance art begin and end. Surely dancers, actors, musicians and other live performers would also be in the same category. No, the art itself is not the same, however, if we are only looking at performance to define ‘Life as Art’, then it could be a valid argument.

Of course artists who are performance based are not the only practitioners who share the idea of ‘Life as Art’. Marcel Duchamp, an experimental filmmaker, openly acknowledges that his life is a work of art. Here is a short interview of him discussing this.

And he is not the only artist, that is not performance based to do this. Does this mean that an artists’ life is art, but the everyday person is not? Still my question seems to be unanswered.

Life

Maybe the definition of life needs to be discussed. What is life? An online dictionary defines life as a condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter. Life has the ability for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.

In an article titled, Why our brains love arts and crafts, it states:

Plasticity is a lifelong property of the brain. Plasticity means that the brain alters its function and eventually its structure as a result of our experiences and actions: whatever we do for long enough will change our brain.

Life is something that changes over time, we physically change, but we also mentally change. Life is ever evolving. I believe art has a certain potential, when engaged with, to bring about tendencies that allow our lives to be mentally extended, which gives us the capacity to cope and engage more fully with life. The article goes on to state:

“Making arts and crafts is crucial for creating social cohesion and for emotional bonding especially during uncertain and challenging circumstances.”

Well life can certainly be challenging! And I believe we need the arts, or we need to engage in arts especially during this time.

As

I’m going to get really carried away here and discuss the word ‘as’ for a moment. So the word ‘as’ can be an adverb, a conjunction or a preposition. I’m pretty sure that ‘as’ in the statement ‘Life as Art’, is assumed to be a preposition, this would define Life as a function of Art. However, if we define ‘as’ being an adverb then ‘Life as Art’ could be seen as a comparison, or a measurement. But what I truly like is ‘as’ when it’s a conjunction. That means that the statement ‘Life as Art’ means Life is happening at the same time as Art. This is interesting.

Now read this blog post titled The urgency of Treating Life as Art, from Accidental Creative.

Such an insightful read and digs deeper into Life and Art. OK, I can see how ‘Life as Art’ can make sense, but for me; Life and Art are happening at the same time, they cross paths, interact, make meaning, create strength for long-term stamina and engagement. Quite some years back when I was a student undertaking a Masters in the Arts, I went to a seminar and heard about an artist practicing his work during war time in his country. He would hear the bullets and fighting outside, yet he continued to create. He believed it was not only a way for him to survive and speak to his time, but also an act of defiance.

That story has stayed with me. I think about art and creativity as a powerful agent in life. A place where we can just be with ourselves, try to understand our world, or communicate to others. So, while ‘Life as Art’ means different things depending on an interpretation. It is a wonderful way of looking at creativity and what it can give to us in our lived experience.

Why our brains love Arts and Crafts, Minna Huotilainen, Mimmu Rankanen, Camilla Groth, Pirita Seitamaa-Hakkarainen and Maarit Mäkelä

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