Category Archives: Philosophy of Art

Art. Why does it matter?

Hand stencil from a limestone cave on Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo. Dated to a minimum age of 39,000 years ago, this may be Earth’s oldest known cave art.

Two imprints of two hands separated by 40,000 years. One on a limestone cave wall, produced by a ground pigment that was blown over the hand, leaving an image of a slender arm and long outstretched, reaching fingers. The other on a canvas, the hand dipped in paint and pressed onto the surface, layered with myriad drips, splatters and throws of paint by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956).

What is the tie that binds?

It is the compulsion to create an image, a form, that embodies this message: “I am. I live. This is me.”
Poignancy lies heavy, for captured in the same instant of these vigorous salutes to life, is the inescapable fact of individual mortality. Yet, in these two salutes to life, I am united with each. This ‘collapsing of time’ evokes a sense of continuity of life that far exceeds the limits of my own oh-so-short time here.

These two striking examples of artistic self-expression, startlingly separated in space and time, share at their core a fundamental import. They speak to me now, today. They are, in a way, an ode to life. At its core, the urge to create is the urge to live, the desire for life.

Whether we create, or enjoy that which is created by another; whether an artwork serves personally, or publicly, fulfilling civic or political functions —  the larger significance of art, of the Arts, is immeasurable. It serves culturally and historically, identifying certain facts in terms of place and time. It serves a sense of humanity, perhaps aiding to formulate a vision of the continuity of humanity. And on occasion, it might allow for an easier vision of our commonalities versus our serious temporal divides and differences. Yes. Art matters. It imparts dignity, value and hope to the meaning of this human experience and suggests a profound significance beyond the limits of oneself.

—Jules Cavanaugh


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Jackson Pollock (1912-1956): (detail) "Number 1A, 1948," 1948. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, after conservation. © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image Courtesy MoMA

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956): (detail) “Number 1A, 1948,” 1948. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, after conservation. © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image Courtesy MoMA

Minoan: Spring Fresco (detail, Swallows), ca. 1650 BCE. From Room Delta 2, Akrotiri, Thera, Greece.

Minoan: Spring Fresco (detail, Swallows), ca. 1650 BCE. From Room Delta 2, Akrotiri, Thera, Greece.

Palace at Knossos, Minoan, Dolphin Fresco, c. 1500 BC. Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, Crete.

Palace at Knossos, Minoan, Dolphin Fresco, c. 1500 BC. Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, Crete.

Paul Gauguin, (French, Post-Impressionism, 1848- May 8, 1903): Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (D'ou Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous), 1897-1898. Created in Punaauia, French Polynesia. Oil on canvas, 54-3/4 x 147-1/2 inches (139.1 x 374.6 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Paul Gauguin, (French, Post-Impressionism, 1848- May 8, 1903): Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (D’ou Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous), 1897-1898. Created in Punaauia, French Polynesia. Oil on canvas, 54-3/4 x 147-1/2 inches (139.1 x 374.6 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Cubism, 1881–1973): Guernica, 1937. Oil on canvas, 349 x 776 cm (137.4 × 305.5 inches), Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Cubism, 1881–1973): Guernica, 1937. Oil on canvas, 349 x 776 cm (137.4 × 305.5 inches), Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

Jackson Pollock (American, Abstract Expressionism, 1912-1956): (detail) “Number 1A, 1948,” 1948. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, after conservation. © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image Courtesy MoMA

Jackson Pollock (American, Abstract Expressionism, 1912-1956): “Number 1A, 1948,” 1948. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, after conservation. © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image Courtesy MoMA.

Richard Serra (American; Minimalism, Process Art; b. 1939): The Matter of Time, 2005. Installation of seven sculptures, weatherproof steel. Varying dimensions: length of over 430 feet, resides in a 32,000 square foot gallery. Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa. © Richard Serra/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

Richard Serra (American; Minimalism, Process Art; b. 1939): The Matter of Time, 2005. Installation of seven sculptures, weatherproof steel. Varying dimensions: length of over 430 feet, resides in a 32,000 square foot gallery. Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa. © Richard Serra/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

James Turrell (American; Contemporary, Post-Minimalism, Light and Space, Installation; b. 1943): Breathing Light, 2013. LED light into space. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, USA. © James Turrell. Photo © Florian Holzherr. © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

James Turrell (American; Contemporary, Post-Minimalism, Light and Space, Installation; b. 1943): Breathing Light, 2013. LED light into space. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, USA. © James Turrell. Photo © Florian Holzherr. © This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.