Art and entertainment are often mistaken by the same thing, but the actual gap between them could not be more abysmal. Entertainment is meant to calm and numb the human mind; take it to a cozy place when it is bored or exhausted. Art, on the other hand, hurts, because it is sublime and thus requires a tiring exercise of imagination and abstraction. We consume entertainment to relax after a long day’s work or to take our head away from our problems, but you can hardly do that with art, because although there is room for a debate about possible exceptions, art is all about opening wounds rather than healing them.
I am not saying that soothing art does not exist. Greek and Renaissance statues are soothing, harmonious, and beautiful. But if we take one of these artworks, for instance Michelangelo’s Pietà, and we observe in detail, we will sooner or later come to the realization that the reason it pleases us so is how it hurts to behold an object of breathtaking beauty. Nonetheless, one could argue that some forms of art exist to be contemplated peacefully; impressionist paintings, for instance. Impressionism aimed to capture the colors of the world as constantly stimulated by light and sought to awake no emotion in the viewer other than the wonder at how vibrant the world truly was. Would you say that it hurts, even in a pleasant way, to look into Monet’s Impression, Sunrise? Because I say it definitely does. From up close the painting is nothing but an amalgam of passionate brush-strokes, but as you step back the images slowly gains form without ever reaching consistency. The viewer is left in constant wandering, putting together scattered fragments of a picture that never truly gets to be whole. Impressionism hurts because it hints the world rather than portraying it.
So why is it that we need to get figuratively hurt in order to properly experience art?
It is said that art is the reflection of our world, and thus of ourselves. Art has mutated and developed with our society; from the bison that we drew on the walls of the caves that sheltered us during the Ice Age, to the abstract bodies that we scatter in the white-walled corridors of contemporary museums. This transition of movements and tendencies across centuries of human history may very well be linked to the different kinds of hurt that afflicted the different stages our society moved through during its evolution. It is no mystery that what fuels the creativity of the artist is the desire to imprint his feelings in physical bodies that become windows for an audience to gaze into his soul. Nevertheless, what afflicted the soul of Michelangelo has little to do with what afflicts Damien Hirst nowadays. What remains is a presence of pain that has prevailed within human beings ever since the dawn of our species; one could even say that art is the eternal struggle to capture it. Moreover, it may not be that an artwork hurts us, but more that it awakes a hurt that has always been latent within us. It is the closest thing that exists to a balm to attenuate the pain. Unless you feel exposed and vulnerable when you contemplate an artwork, unless you let it re-open your wounds, you are not truly experiencing it.
Written by Javier Gonzales