The Power of Art

The need for artistic expression is always present in our lives.

The need for artistic expression is always present in our lives.  Ever since the discovery of cave art dating back to the Middle Paleolithic age, man’s unquenchable thirst for creative activity has proved an important form of communication and never waned.   

The power of art can be intoxicating and profound with some works selling for hundreds of millions of dollars.  Take Leonardo da Vinci’s, ”Salvator Mundi” painted around 1500, the most expensive painting ever sold at public auction by Christies in 2017 for $450 million.  Jesus Christ stares out intensely holding a crystal orb drawing the viewer in.

Art Historian and presenter, Sir Simon Schama, paints a fascinating picture of creativity in his 2006 series, The Power of Art  Looking at the work of eight artists including Caravaggio, Rothko, and Pablo Picasso, Schama chooses one painting from each artist to explore their lives and legacies.  ”How powerful is art?” he asks quizzically.  ”Can it feel like love or grief?  Can it change your life?”

 

Picasso’s almighty, ”Guernica” painting created in 1937 was the Spanish artist’s response to the brutal bombing of a small town in the Basque country by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  Killing more than 1600 people the explicit picture is widely regarded as the most powerful anti-war painting in history.  Exploring what art can really do in the face of atrocity, Schama describes Picasso here as a ”paintbrush warrior” telling us the painting is, ”not just a painting but a prophecy.”  A brilliantly informative series, it looks at art across centuries and cultures from Italian Renaissance to Impressionism.  

 

But what of the unquenchable urge to create that so often goes with being a professional artist? Throughout the ages, this often-overwhelming feeling can completely consume.  Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh, whose paintings and letters (he wrote over eight hundred) we are lucky to have in the public domain was dogged by a powerful desire to paint.  ”My brush goes between my fingers as if it were a bow on a violin and absolutely for my pleasure,” he writes. ”I am applying myself to my canvases with all my attention,” he says in another.  The actor Benedict Cumberbatch (Eric, The Imitation Game, Sherlock) plays the artist with total conviction in Van Gogh Painted with Words a documentary about the artist’s life where only lines from his letters are spoken adding gravitas to the actor’s transformative performance.

 

Portrait and figurative painter, Flora Blackett who trained at the prestigious Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence and who has painted royalty and military figures explains, ”I have an urge to paint but, like writer’s block, there are good days and bad days.  However, once you find that moment of inspiration it is all consuming.”  As a portrait painter, Blackett says she is often telling a story of someone’s life through their face, through their lines, through their expression adding, ”Art can portray real beauty, sadness and all kinds of emotion.  The sheer beauty of art can stop you in your tracks.”

Indeed, an artist’s dedication to his craft is immense.  Johannes Vermeer, for example, was such a perfectionist that he only created around sixty paintings during his lifetime of which thirty-seven survive.  Known as the ”artist of quiet interiors” for his depiction of peaceful compositions his work draws crowds in their thousands.  The documentary, Vermeer and Music, The Art of Love and Leisure looks at the artist’s use of musical instruments and his place in the Dutch Golden Age of painting.  Carefully curated by art historian Tim Marlow it offers valuable insight into the painter’s life and work. ” Vermeer paintings are rare, so any exhibition of his work is a momentous occasion,” Marlow tells us.

In 2023, The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam held the largest ever exhibition of the artist’s work featuring twenty-eight of his paintings.  Open for three months it welcomed around six hundred and fifty thousand visitors.  See the collection for yourself in the documentary Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition now on Marquee TV. 

These days though art doesn’t necessarily have to involve a palette or paintbrush.  Over the past few decades, conceptual and performance artists such as Serbian Marina Abramovic, and Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama have become household names thanks to their outlandish creativity.

 ”It is very interesting that after forty years of people thinking you are insane and saying you should be put in a mental hospital you finally get all these acknowledgments,” Abramovic says in, The Artist is Present a documentary exploring her career retrospective at MOMA in 2010.  Highlights include visitor participation where members of the public sit opposite her in a ”face off” cultivating their own personal connection with the artist in an intense interaction.

 

Yayoi Kusama, best known for her colorful and energetic sculpture, installations, and polka dot formations has also garnered international fame and fortune. ”I come up with new ideas so quickly. My canvas can’t keep up with me” she says.  From child poverty to the toast of the contemporary art scene, Kusama’s work made $80.9 million at auction in 2023.  Now in her nineties, you can explore her artistic journey in the documentary Kusama Infinity.

 

David Hockney, also in the golden age of his creativity, is one of Britain’s most popular contemporary artists whose exhibitions attract hundreds of thousands of visitors.  His enthusiasm to see the world afresh has no sign of abating as is obvious in David Hockney at The Royal Academy of Arts; an entrancing look at the artist’s last two exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy of Arts in 2012 and 2016.  The artist discusses his inspirations and creative process.  ”Portraiture, landscape and still life.  What else is there?” he proclaims to camera with a twinkle of the eye.

 

Art Fairs, too, continue to resonate with energy and inspiration.  Frieze and Art Basle, for example, are testament to this.  Frieze – a leading contemporary art fair founded in London in 2003, now curates fairs in New York, LA, and Seoul making millions in sales. Art Basle, another major international art fair held in Miami, Hong Kong, and Paris, exhibits work by some 4,000 artists bringing the international art community together to buy, sell, and marvel at artistic prowess old and new.  

Capable of rousing the most passionate of emotions, artistic expression has no bounds.  As Picasso once said, ”Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

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