I met Alain briefly at Ted Global (Edinburgh) in 2011, while he was signing his books. Nice guy. Sharp as a razor. Both the fine art establishment and philiosphy academe seem to hate his guts, but that might not actually be a bad thing, in the end.
So what *is* art for? Here’s my summary of Alain’s video:
1. Art keeps us hopeful. The most popular art in the world is full of pretty things. Monet’s water lillies, beautiful sunrises, scenic vistas. This penchant for “pretty” worries a lot of the professional art crowd, because it’s not “serious” enough. But we need the pretty stuff, not because we’re in danger of forgetting the terrible stuff, but because the terrible stuff weighs so heavily on us. Painting a pretty thing is an act of hope, waiting for when we need it.
2. Art makes us less lonely. In a world that expects us to put on a smiling face at all times, it’s easy to forget that we all carry around a lot of private suffering and anguish. By making private suffering public via say, a dark painting or a somber piece of music, we are comforted by being reminded that pain and suffering is a normal part of human existence.
3. Art rebalances us. Art is very good at capturing what’s lacking in our life. You can tell what’s missing from a person or a society from looking at the art they like.
4. Art helps us appreciate stuff. In a world gone mad with celebrity and hype, art reminds us to take notice at the things that really do matter, i.e. the ordinary things around us. Durur could get us to look at a few blades of grass in a new light, Cezanne could do the same with a bowl of oranges.
5. Art is propaganda for what really matters. The best art reminds is of our best selves. The worst art does the opposite. Alain concludes that fine art has become such a big deal culturally, that we forget what it’s actually for. Its job is to nourish and inform us spiritually, it’s not our job to fawn in front of it like giggling fanboys. It should work for us, not the other way around.
Personally, I think the more enemies Alain makes in the art world, the better off for all of us. The fine art world is a silly, greedy, venal place that attracts equally silly, greedy, venal people. Robert Hughes, the greatest art critic of my father’s generation (and a big hero of mine), went to his grave a very sad man as a result. We owe our children something better. We owe our children something more.