“Art is advertising for what we really need.”
The idea that works of art have the ability to remind us, in the modern day, of what matters most in life is a truly fascinating concept.
The pieces on display in this recent video on the topic from The School of Life do so not in spite of the fact that they decades or even centuries old, but because of this. They are fragments of a time in which it was normal for people – especially artists – to pursue beauty and understanding by reflecting on the glory of the natural world, rather than being told what to do, what to think, by marketers who sell meaning for a pay cheque.
The video makes a reasonable case for what a piece depicting three trees or a group of grasses might make the viewer feel. However, its examples – all paintings – are romanticised. For instance, Dürer’s Great Piece of Turf is not an advertisement for wild plants, but an exploration of theme. And it is that which the artist is advertising. He is not commenting on the plants themselves, but the order in chaos that they represent.
By limiting the examples to an explicitly visual medium that is gradually going out of style in the mainstream, the video misses the opportunity to explore how other formats advertise in a much more modern way.
Film, for instance. While it is a visual medium, it is narrative driven, allowing audiences to empathise and connect with its meaning more easily. Not all art should be easy, but like all forms of advertising, often the easiest way to share an idea is the best way.
And then, of course, there’s writing. No other medium is designed to explore the intricacies of life like a novel. A novel takes commitment. It takes trust. It requires a willingness from the reader to open themselves up to the question of what they really need, and to search for the answer between the lines.
I say this not to discredit the work of The School of Life. The video is eloquent, exact, and appealing. But I think it serves not just as a reminder of the importance of art, but of the fact that to discover what matters most in life, we don’t always have to look back into the world before social media or television, or any other technology on which we pin our failure to appreciate the world.
It doesn’t matter where we are. It doesn’t matter how we find the answer. All that matters is that we open our eyes.