The necessity of art

by Steve Harrison

It’s no surprise that art galleries are struggling these days. Having closed my own, Hillside Fine Art, in August, more out of fear of the future than any real struggles from the pandemic, I am aware how even during good times, it’s hard to connect artwork with buyers. During six years in business, I was told by many how art was an easier venture for both artists and galleries before the Great Recession of 2008. Apparently, at the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of this one, art would fly off gallery walls. 

With the economic struggles that the banking and housing bubble collapse brought, the need for art and the need to feather one’s nest lost attraction; people began to question their need for decoration. As my mother continued to tell me, “Art isn’t a necessity.” I didn’t bother to tell my 88-year-old mom, who never during my childhood took me to an art museum, gallery, festival or fair, that it was. 

From the time I had my own home, filling it with visual fantasies, escapes, and memories was a need as basic as a TV or comfy seat. Throughout the pandemic’s isolation, its confinement, and its anxiety, our paintings have taken me to a calmer place, a memory of a favorite place, and into a safer place. 

Art is indeed a luxury. It decorates, but, like a favorite tatter-paged novel, it provides a reminder of a time, place, and feeling not physically accessible due to daily demands or pandemic discomfort. Our children might tell us that their phones can do the same thing. And I suppose they are right to a point. 

Technology can distract us, to be sure, but frequently the experience can end in mind numbing isolation. But there is something about looking at the work of an artist: the thickness of paint, the swirl of a brushstroke or cut of a palette knife, and the choice of color, that can connect creator with observer and like all artists’ work bond us momentarily and forever to the art and artist. Art becomes more than decoration. Just venture into a model house as opposed to the home of a collector and feel the difference. No matter the artistry of the decorator, pictures placed to fill a space, no matter how “beautifully,” feel staged and sterile. 

A friend of mine, who has over 500 paintings in her modest Rancho Cucamonga tract house, lives surrounded by an artful mosaic. Each piece lovingly chosen is a reflection of some interest of the collector. Our children can hold vast numbers of images on their phones, but they hardly become the coat of many colors that wraps my friend in the warmth and texture of her collection. 

I’m sure many of you have done the same thing as I have over the last few months and wondered how many of the shops and storefronts you pass will be empty due to the pandemic’s impact on businesses. This is especially true for art. We are lucky in Claremont to have some wonderful purveyors of many kinds of art. Buddha Mouse, Bunny Gunner, Claremont Fine Art, Studio C, and Square I are just a few of the local shops that can provide fanciful and entertaining connections to the creative spirit. Once you bring home the ceramic pot, the painting, the textile, or the sculpture, it is there to provide you the solace and calm we all crave, especially now.

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