The Real Reason Why We Buy Art.
Once, in a museum in Europe, I spotted a painting. I don’t remember who painted it, nor do I even remember the painting or the artist. What I remember is the feeling I had when I looked at it. It broke my heart. But it broke my heart wide open.
It was an impressionist painting – I think it was three women, sitting near the shore. In my vague memory, the women were wearing white. The sun was shining upon them. There may have been a sailboat. The tones in the painting were neutral. Grays, pale blue, whites, wheats. I remember looking at it and walking away, but something tugged at me, so I walked back, and stared.
This is the meaning of “staying” power! I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to not feel this feeling again, and this particular feeling only came with this particular piece of art. I loved where it took me. It was a bit magical, a bit mysterious, a bit haunting, a bit of time travel, a bit on the edge…of what?
Great paintings are subjective, but they tend to capture that very precise “je ne sais quois” for the individual. What is that, that edge that it moves us to? I don’t know what it is, and I imagine no one really does. It’s a bit like being moved by a poem, or if you opened a novel to the most intense part, not knowing what came before or after. Or like the part of the song that gives you involuntary “frisson” or an auto-sensory muscle response/ASMR that comes in waves or makes your arm-hairs stand up straight. It’s a big reason why art is so important to have in schools, and while we seek scientific evidence for why arts are important for children, it’s hard to put a scientific value on this feeling.
In this incredibly fast-moving world that most of us cannot keep up with AND stay sane, we seek out these quiet moments that break our hearts open – maybe without even knowing that’s what we’re doing. Maybe that is the thing that drives us to seek art in all forms. We want so much to be moved and for it to last forever. But the beauty in being moved is that it doesn’t last forever. It’s fleeting. And for good reason. It is intense and profound to feel these unnameable, ungraspable feelings. Having them go on too long would be overwhelming to our system, AND (perhaps more importantly) having them go on forever would ensure the loss of their power and influence over us.
Still though, we gravitate toward mementos of these moments. This is why we download the song that was playing at that moment, we buy the art (even in the form of a print or postcard!) so we can keep looking at it, we wear the perfume that reminds us of that moment, we read the book again and again, revisiting our memories of the moment, anticipating and hoping that that feast is indeed moveable.