What art should do

I strongly remember visiting the MoMA in New York City one year ago today. But not for the reasons you may think I remember the visit.

Exploring the city one Sunday afternoon, I made my way up towards central/upper Manhattan and just happened to stumble on a banner with the colossal, impossible to not recognize letters of the MoMa.

For the majority of my life I had never stepped foot into a large, globally-recognized museum.

No, my curated experiences before the MoMa only took place either online or at smaller museums, such as The Leonardo in downtown Salt Lake City.

So, walking into the museum and encountering a vast open space where people cluttered the floor and artwork did the same on the walls, I felt an immediate sense of awe. Small groups of school classes huddled around tiny benches, and curation moderators strutted about, their matching jackets and identification vivid reminders that these were people who mattered in this place.

And I felt something as I made my way up through the various floors of impeccable and overwhelmingly creative works of art.

It was hard to describe what was occurring to me during the first two or so hours (of a total four hours I would spend at the museum that day) though. It wasn’t until the latter half of my visit that I began to understand why this experience was making me…feel.

As I walked through the museum and took the time to really look at the creative work around me – the work of O'Keeffe, Picasso, Dali, and Van Goh, amongst other, more contemporary and relatable, artists – I found that the people in the museum that day with me: the swarming students, the curators and moderators, they had nothing to do with how I was feeling.

The building itself, with it’s sparkling concrete walls, the beautiful terrace, the very shape and flow of the MoMa as a space, none of that was influencing me necessarily either.

What I felt that day was an overwhelming sense of power.

I remember, so clearly, stopping at a particular work at the top floor of the museum and thinking to myself, almost out-loud: “How amazing, that people for hundreds of centuries have found a way to create representations of feelings, experiences, history itself.”

And it’s true, what I felt that day: good art, good work of creation from any individual, is a pure expression of emotion, of a moment in time. And any good work will not only convey those feelings onto the viewer or experiencer of the work, good work instills emotions. Naturally.

There’s a particular famous work by Jackson Pollock at the MoMa that I remember staring at for an uncomfortable amount of time (for those around me, anyway).

As I looked at the criss-crossing lines of splattered paint of that Pollock painting, I found myself immensely drawn into the emotions that must have made up the painting itself.

What was Pollock feeling when he splattered the paint? As I looked closely at the work I could see where individual lines of paint overlapped others, symbolizing exactly which splash of color was placed before or after another. What made him decide on one color and direction over another? I could feel myself as though I was there, almost carelessly and almost completely controlling each movement with Pollock. The choice of colors, the sense of creating something with such grace that could only end in a work that resembled utter chaos and loss of control.

I thought of the time that Pollock must have been living in while making that very work. Some time before the early 1950s. What was the economy like? What was it like for him to leave his studio and walk or drive to the store to buy a loaf of bread? Did it feel just as he felt when painting: like trying to control chaos?

And as I stood looking at that painting I knew – I knew! – that was the work that all creatives must strive to make.

Not work that is timeless, trendy, or revolutionary. Not a masterpiece for the mere sake of pursuing what it takes to make a masterpiece. Not writing a novel for the exercise of placing words onto a page. Not performing because it simply pays the bills.

No! The work we must strive to make as creatives is work that conveys and instills feelings. That symbolizes everything about our moment in time, our abilities (or lack thereof), our knowledge of the craft, and our message to anyone who might look, hear, taste, feel, smell, or otherwise sense the work we make.

When you create you are creating a sense of you. Remember that.

Photo by Ana Carina Lauriano.