The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Art

art appreciation

You may be expecting me to regale you with some long-winded bull about artsy fartsy stuff that you should absolutely have in your life.  My conscience tells me that maybe I should start this blog off with a disclaimer or perhaps a spoiler alert.  The big question I am asking myself is who am I to convince you of the value that art has for you or the rest of the world?

e9d976ac0ad1923d2a1b45f65431411aWhen I grew up, the only art in our house was an Elvis on velvet painting that my mother had hanging over the living room sofa.  We also had a wooden ship with metal sails and a clock that did not work built into the side of the ship.  It was featured prominently on the mantle over our fake fireplace.  Our furniture would have done the Salvation Army proud.  I do not remember any other art besides Elvis displayed on our walls, floors, or ceilings.  Neither my father or mother had any interest in art.  My mother liked Elvis and that is why she got the painting. 

s-l300When I think back upon my schooling, I do not recall ever having had a single class in art appreciation.  We would occasionally go on field trips but usually to a library or a science museum.  No one in my schools acknowledged the world of art.  For blue collar kids like myself, the world of art had little relevance or practical use.  Everyone knew that artists died poor.  The great Van Gogh sold only one picture in his lifetime and that to a relative.  The purchase of art was for the rich, spoiled, eccentric scions of old aristocratic families with more money than they knew what to do with. 

unnamedWhen Karen and I first moved down to Arizona, we took a day to go and visit Scottsdale.  Scottsdale is a wealthy upper-class community.  Scottsdale is generally considered the most affluent large city in Arizona.  The average income of a Scottsdale resident is $51,564 a year. The US average is $28,555 a year.  According to Zillow.com, the typical price of a home in Scottsdale is $582,292.  We walked around the downtown portion of Scottsdale and expected to see the usual mix of clothing stores, jewelry shops, antique shops, and restaurants.  We were not surprised except when it came to the antique shops. 

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Most towns we visit today seem to have an abundance of antique shops.  Not Scottsdale!  Instead of antique shops, full of overpriced cast outs from yesteryear, Scottsdale had more jewelry shops and art galleries than I could count.  It goes without saying that I do not generally go into high end jewelry shops selling Rolex watches.  In some of these Scottsdale shops, a Rolex would be a cheap watch.  Sporting my Casio, I would not even merit a sales attempt.  However, we were really surprised at the number of art galleries.  Foolishly, we dared to venture into a few of them.  Our trips inside did not last long. 

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My idea of an expensive piece of art runs in the double digits.  Most of the art in these shops exceeded my tax return from last year.  Meaning the art was well into four or more digits.  I found myself petrified of knocking something over or off of a pedestal.  My heart rate was so high, I almost called 911.  We decided we had seen enough art and it was time to find some decent tacos and beer.  We found a good Mexican restaurant and sat on the sidewalk where we could look at the expensively dressed local Scottsdale people.  I soon noticed that Scottsdale did not have any obese or overweight citizens.  I suppose that when you are really wealthy, you can afford a coach, trainer or whatever to help you diet and keep your weight down. 

HP-Hero-Header@2xArt reflects the beauty that life holds.  Paintings portray ideals and impressions that intrigue and magnify the senses.  Sculptures mirror the objects in our world that mystify us or that remind us of magnificent events.  Pictures bring us to other places and times that would be forgotten without the images the photographer captures.  Art does not attempt to simply mirror reality; it attempts to augment and enhance reality.  Art can be a caricature which like a Rorschach text enables us to see many different visions.  Art is a realization of values, norms, pain, happiness, the past, the present and the future.  Art can simultaneously create fantasy and reality.

flickr_-_cc_-_manuel_paternity_-_no_modification-_no_commercial_useYou may be rightly thinking, “But what good does art do me if I cannot afford to even walk into an art shop?”  I often asked myself this same question.  Why look at stuff that I could not afford?  It took me years before I even ventured into an art museum.  I have since visited the Louvre while in Paris and many other museums in the USA and in Europe.  My attitude is now one of gratefulness that someone has purchased these magnificent works of art to share with the public.  The vast majority of us could never begin to afford the pricelessness of these museum pieces.  I strongly encourage you to visit an art museum sometime. 

il_794xN.2697702323_8azbWhen it comes to art that I would like to own, it is simply a matter of what I can afford.  The art world is full of overpriced works of art.  Many would rebel at my labeling art this way.  My critics would say that it was high priced and not “over” priced.  That may well be.  I have talked to a number of artists and the vast majority do not get paid for the value of their efforts and creativity.  However, just like in athletics, a few stand out and are disproportionally rewarded for their efforts.    

I will also claim that there are many underpriced works of art.  I find what I call bargains done by both artisans and artists that I would have thought would sell for much higher prices.  Karen and I have visited quite a few art festivals.  When we moved to Arizona, we decided that we would decorate the interior of our house with affordable works of art.  Art that we admired and liked and that fit our budget.  We chose to find original works of art rather than just reproductions.  There is nothing wrong with reproductions, but we opted to save our money for art that we thought was unique and one of a kind.      

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I have not said what I consider quality art or great art to be.  That would be more than presumptuous.  More astute minds than mine have tried to define “great” art.  I have always subscribed to the maxim that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  I cannot define great art, but I can tell you what I like.  Sometimes, it is simply something that reminds me of another place or time and sometimes it is something that I think is beautiful.  My house could never hold all the art that I have admired over the years.  As I said before, I am grateful that there are people called artists who are willing to venture into a field where the rewards are so problematic compared to the skill and creativity required.   

If you find the world boring, if you wonder if there is more to life than you experience, if you are depressed at the bad news each day, if the daily diet of mayhem and misfortune makes you wish you were living in another time or place, then art may be the solution to your misery.  Art is a bouquet of flowers which can bring joy to your heart.  Sir John Lubbock, 4th Baronet said that, “art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness.  It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind.  As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.

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You can begin to appreciate the world of art today.  It will not cost you a single penny.  Your initiation fee is paid by the amount of time you are willing to devote to art.  There are classes on art online for free.  There are YouTube videos with tours of art museums and histories of great paintings and artists.  Your local library will have dozens of books that are collections of some of the great art works in history.  The Salvation Army and Goodwill have many used books that include works of art for you to purchase at less than two dollars a book.

10 Free Courses to Help You Understand and Appreciate Art …    

Another option of course, is to appreciate the world of art as an artist or creator rather than as a follower or viewer.  Several years ago, I took an art class.  I wanted to see if I had the talent to be an artist.  The class taught how to paint miniatures.  I did several paintings which turned out quite well.  The class also showed me the hard work and discipline that was required to be an artist.  I wisely chose to make my fortunes in the business world rather than in the more challenging world of art. 

Whatever you decide, I hope that you can let the world of art color your days like a rainbow that never dims or goes out.  The world will be a happier place when we can all learn to appreciate art.

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The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Music

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What would life be without the things that help us to appreciate it?  I listen to a superb singer and think how fantastic it is to be able to have this kind of talent in the world.  I visit an art gallery and look at the magnificent paintings and think about all the people that have created works of art which beautify my life.  I journey to a library to find a good book to read and I am inundated with literature that will open vast new horizons for me intellectually and emotionally.  I am sometimes ashamed that I am not grateful enough for the many appreciations that life gives me.

I started thinking a few days ago that the issue of appreciation would make a good subject for a blog.  I soon realized that the subject would be good for several blogs.  Thus, I have decided to write about the greatest appreciations in my life.  Of course, life itself is a given as the greatest appreciation of all, so I will skip it for now.  There are hundreds of things that I can appreciate.  I will limit my list to the top seven things that I am grateful for or that I appreciate on an almost daily basis.  I will try cover each of these in my next blogs.

  1. Music
  2. Art
  3. Literature
  4. Travel/Food
  5. Friends/Family
  6. Exercise/Health
  7. Peace

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Music:  Something to Appreciate

This week I will discuss the joys and happiness that I find in music.  Karen, my wife is a musician.  I am unfortunately not among the musically gifted.  I am left to be the audience for Karen and other people with the talent to perform.  I have hundreds of artists all over the world that I admire and listen to.  Many people have a steady diet of music from a particular genre.  I consider myself fortunate to have quite parochial tastes when it comes to music.

I love opera, country, blue grass, gospel, classical, rock, pop, blues, jazz, folk, as well as music from almost every country in the world.  Have you ever listened to Enka music from Japan or Fado music from Portugal?  There are hundreds of styles of music all over the world.  Increasingly I find what might be called fusion music that blends a multitude of styles.

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One currently popular group is called the Hu.  They are a rock band from Mongolia.  They use traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including the Morin khuur, Tovshuur and Mongolian throat singing with a rock beat.  They say that they are inspired by the Hunnu, an ancient Turkic/Mongol empire.  I discovered them on YouTube and liked them so much I purchased one of their albums.  I listened to it every day for a few weeks.  I had never heard anything like it before.

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Yesterday on NPR they had a music session with the noted African American operatic baritone Will Liverman.   It was an interesting conversation.   There has been a systematic exclusion of information concerning Black singers and composers in the realm of classical music.  Mr.  Liverman talked about his upbringing and how surprised his parents were that he became interested in opera and classical music.  He pursued his interests and has become one of the great operatic singers of our time.  Will observed that many great Black composers were virtually unknown to the public and even in the music world.  He decided to remedy this with an album of songs by Black composers.  You can find his album on Amazon and many of Mr. Liverman’s songs on YouTube.

The music world is full of variety, mysteries, contradictions, challenges, and respite from a world all too often full of dreary news and mayhem.  I have briefly touched on some of the variety in the music world, but what are the mysteries?  Well consider the talent that it takes to become a good musician.  Many people think that musicians are simply born with the talent.  A little knowledge of musicians will soon show you that music is a combination of talent and hard work.  Few of us will ever know if we could have been a great musician because most of us do not have the discipline to put the effort into music.  This includes me as well.  I am amazed at the practicing that Karen does each week.

Karen performing with the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble Visits The Fountains – The Fountains at La Cholla in Tucson, AZ

Karen has taken dozens of classes to help develop her skills.  There never seems to be a time when she will simply quit and say, “I have become good enough.”  She is always working and striving to become better.  Every year she develops more skills and then challenges herself with more difficult pieces, not to mention adding more instruments to her repertoire.  And here is the mystery.  Where do these people get the energy and courage to keep on challenging themselves?  Most of us would rather listen to music.  We marvel at the fantastic talent that is in the music world, but we seldom understand the practice, discipline and hard work that is involved.  I gasp in amazement at a man like Jake Shimabukuro whose fingers move over the ukulele faster than I can see.  I cannot comprehend pianists that can play an entire Beethoven symphony without looking at a music sheet.  These are all mysteries to me.

What of contradictions?  The music world is full of contradictions.  Talented players and singers who never seem to achieve the stardom they deserve.  One-hit-wonders who can create a dynamic song that tops the charts but are never heard from again.  Five-year-old wunderkinds who display abilities that defy logic.  Singers who develop followers that worship the ground they walk on.  Performers who last a few years, disappear for many years, and then make startling comebacks.  Singers who are still in the music business in their eighties.  Artists who seem to have little talent but make tons of money.  The music world is full of contradictions.

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What of the challenges I refer to?  For a musician, the world is one giant challenge.  Can you imagine getting up in front of 100,000 people or more to sing the national anthem?   Can you imagine facing the expectations of an audience that has paid a minimum of 100 dollars a seat to hear you perform and some may have paid thousands to hear you perform?  Could you handle the pressure?  Can you imagine a road tour?  Leaving your home for a year to travel the world and play in dozens of different venues in front of many different audiences.  I get anxious not sleeping in my own bed for one night.  I think the challenges also show up in the chaotic drug filled life that we often see in some musicians.  Stars like Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince, and hundreds of other great musicians who met an early and untimely death.  Is it any wonder?  The challenges may be too much for anyone.

Finally for me, the respite that music brings to my life could not be purchased for a million dollars.  It is said that “Music soothes the savage beast.”  Music takes the stress out of my life.  Music is like meditating.  It is often better than eating or sleeping.  I can watch an Andrea Bocelli performance, and everything is okay with the world.  Music helps me to forget the vicious daily news, the angry divisive politicians insulting each other, the legal eagles trying to entice me to sue someone, the maniacs on the road in a hurry to go nowhere.  I can forget the dreams I had that never materialized as I listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing, “Wayfaring Stranger” or Miley Cyrus sing, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” or Bob Dylan sing, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

I fear I have not even begun to explain the joys, beauty and wonders that music can bring into our lives.  The subject is so deep and wide, that my short missive here does not even begin to do it justice.  My goal is to inspire and entice you to find more time for music in your life.  It is truly one of the great appreciations that life brings us.  Sean Combs said that “A life without passion is unforgivable.”  It is even truer that a “life without music is a terrible shame.’

Next week I will talk about Art and what it can do to help us appreciate life more.

 

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