I have always been fascinated by art. Paintings, drawings, lithographs and etchings; the world of life transferred to two dimensions for ease of display and enjoyment has an irresistible appeal. The ability to capture the elements of existence on flat surfaces is a talent I learned to appreciate since my early years, and hence the reason why I can’t imagine a world without this form of expression.

From the deliberately confused scale and spatial relationships found in the Italian Mannerism movement in the 1500s, to the technical brilliance and architectural concentration of Baroque paintings in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I love it all. From the emotional, light-filled French Impressionism masterpieces of the late 1800s to the simplicity and vivid colors in ancient Japanese woodblock prints, every work of art I have come across speaks in its own voice of the dedication and thoughts of the artist behind it, of the time period in which it was created, and the immortal message left behind in its beauty.

My walls are covered with prints of great masterpieces, ranging from such recent genius as Alphonse Mucha and his Art Nouveau, as well as a tiny oil painting by a completely anonymous yet amazingly talented Italian artist, to The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, the original of which was painted between 1485 and 1486. With the centuries of art available, it is hard to limit my selection to a few favorites, and as one can probably imagine, it is a challenge to find an unused expanse of wall space in any room left to my devices.

All art has a purpose, a reason for being created and a reason for enduring long enough to be found on the walls of museums and homes today. Something within the piece, whether placed there knowingly or by accident by the one creating it, holds enough power over the senses to ensure admirers and fans for as long as the message remains relevant to at least a few people. For example, Eugène Delacroix was a gifted painter who lived during the French Revolution and Restoration. Through his paintings, such as La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty leading the people), he celebrated the revolutionary movements of the French people and encouraged political upheaval. Taking a different approach, the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s dramatic life experiences and emotions are expressed in her work, putting into paint that which could not be said in words, telling a brutaly honest autobiography until her death. I am a huge fan of both of these artists despite their dramatically different approaches to creative expression. Both Kahlo and Delacroix’s works carry vital messages, which give perspective even to the modern world.

Do not misunderstand what I have been saying thus far, as the concept of aestheticism holds some appeal to me. For those who are unfamiliar with the movement, aestheticism is the idea that art’s mere existence justifies itself, and therefore it has no need for utilitarian purposes, political statements, moral content or other non-aesthetic components. A famous French guy named Cousin succinctly summarizes this theory as "l’art pour l’art," translated to the phrase "art for art’s sake." Aestheticism is a popular belief many people adhere to, even myself on occasion. Some say that art is a part of human nature, to be experienced in itself with no need to promote beliefs, only to search for beauty and emotion as opposed to more "practical" aspects. I suppose this is true, although a deeper meaning is always welcome to my eyes.

For a more tangible example, James McNeill Whistler was perhaps the most famous painter falling into the category of "art for art’s sake." He painted mostly portraits and landscapes of the Thames, which were supposedly without deeper meaning beyond the harmonious color relationships and beauty expressed on a superficial level. While his work is undeniably excellent, the absence of meaning is disconcerting and leaves the viewer who seeks a hidden message feeling somewhat hollow. It all depends on what one is looking for in artwork - pleasing colors and pictures or significant historical and emotional statements.

Personally, I tend to favor art that expresses some sort of communication as opposed to the works of such artists as Whistler, even if it is nothing more than a simple emotion derived from looking at the painting. For example, I love Claude Monet, the French impressionist everyone has heard of. He would often paint a series of the same scene a dozen times in varying degrees of light and color. This repeated scene was frequently nothing more than a haystack or a building, but despite the lack of political meaning or moral connotation in Monet’s work, the simplicity and the impressionistic gift for utilizing light to its full extent make his paintings as insanely popular today as they will no doubt remain for an extremely long time.

The prospect of a world without art is frightening. But the fact is, time without art hardly existed at all. I remember reading about archaeologists in Zambia, the part of Africa associated with the emergence of modern humans, who found evidence of art in the forms of paint grinding equipment and pigments dating from between 350,000 and 400,000 years ago. This was before the arrival and evolution of Homo sapiens, so technically art has existed longer than the modern human species. How can one take lightly such a historically relevant aspect of civilization?

In all my ramblings to this point, I hope it has become obvious that I am passionate about paintings. All the knowledge I’ve shared is the result of long years of intense interest, a sort of academic manifestation of what started off as a purely innocent and casual interest. Without two-dimensional artwork, my entire life would be different. Beyond the obvious commitment of time and money involved in my hobby that I would regain in its absence, the world I live in would lose a dimension. Flat surfaces would hold no meaning, no life, and who knows what sort of repercussions such a change would have on humanity as a whole. Perhaps I’m being a little overdramatic, but my guess is that the world will never know.

I am not an art major and have never taken an art history class. Surprised? The majority of people tend to be. Like most, I gave up unrealistic dreams of becoming successful in a field as impossible as art to study and concentrate on more "practical" matters, a decision resulting from pressure originating from the ones who were kind enough to take responsibility for financing my education. And so, here I am, devoid of an outlet in which to express the importance of my passion, but doubtless gaining the knowledge necessary to be a success in the future, and therefore better off in the long run. Or so one would hope. But I shall remain an advocate of the arts, a lover of paintings ranging from meaningful to simply beautiful, forever.

Written for Eng 125 on 22 Sept 2002
On the topic of "What are you most passionate about?"

The professor said I was too formal, too serious, and too informative. And that I used a colon instead of a hyphen in one spot. Grade: A-. Most kids wrote about how much they loved to hang out with friends or their dog. I was pissed.

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