Why Do We Study Art?

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What is art? Why does it touch our souls? Why should we study it?

Art is created out of an artist’s desire to express something. Art can come in many forms; visual art is what tends to come to the minds of most people. However, art can certainly be experiential and auditory as well. Anyone can be an artist and anyone can enjoy art and find meaning within it.

What sets good art apart from bad art is not simply whether or not it is aesthetically beautiful. The quality of a piece also depends on whether it has intention and inspiration behind it.

Good art has something powerful to express. Sometimes you like what it says and are inspired by it, sometimes you are confused by it and sometimes you can even be offended by it. It was inspired by someone and is meant to make you, a partaker, think and react.

Being exposed to art from around the world and across centuries opens you up to new experiences and emotions. Looking at a gorgeous Vermeer painting from 1665 from the Netherlands opens a window into the past and grants a glimpse into the soul of the artist.

This utterly foreign world is so far removed from modern day San Diego, yet we can still connect with the emotions and vitality of the world that Vermeer has presented to us. We love art because it speaks to us and allows us to connect with something outside ourselves.

Poet John Keats, in his poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” takes the reader on a journey to discover what an ancient piece of pottery has to say about the immortality of art and the mortality of man. Keats concludes that this piece of art is there to show viewers how to seek something outside of themselves. It inspires them to think and reflect on life and humanity.

The closing lines of the poem describe the urn as, “… a friend to man, to whom thou say’st / ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’” (lines 48-49). The urn is there to disclose to people these universal truths and to inspire further exploration.

Why should we study art? Beyond the pure aesthetics of art, there are beautiful insights the study of art can reveal to us. We have a desire to connect with each other. We want to be understood and to understand one another. What better way to understand someone’s perspective on life than to view their creation? Delving into a work of art enriches and inspires our lives.

Good art reminds us of our struggle to find meaning in life. Art asks us to take a step back and reflect on what it means to us. What does living a passionate life mean to you? Why has this artist chosen to describe life in this manner?

Studying art allows us the capacity to explore these questions. Studying art strengthens our ability to open up to others while allowing us to admire a unique perspective.

Written by senior history major Alana Hoskins. r

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