Room for Art

A good friend of mine lives a normal life. He has a stable job, lots of spare time, and enjoys the same things most people do, from watching a good movie to playing sports for fun to having a drink or two with his friends.

In other words, my friend is not what you’d call an eccentric, but if you walk into his office, you’ll spot a glass cabinet that holds something special: From his first Pokémon card to his latest video game, my friend has kept all of his collectibles over the years, and now that he lives in his own flat, he has chosen to display and preserve them at the same time.

Between the tinted glass to protect the trading cards from sun damage and the neat arrangement of all the items, as soon as you see the display, you’ll know: Here lives a man who makes room for art — and in today’s average-cluttered world, that is by no means a matter of course.

Art is for everyone because it’s a form of human connection. When we look at art, however we may personally define it, we feel less alone. Unfortunately, in an ever-busy, almost fully data-driven world, art gets commoditized and marginalized, pushed to the sidelines in public and filed under also-ran in our private lives.

The problem is that art feels optional when it’s not. What’s obvious in our real-world connections — when we don’t interact with other humans, we become lonely and depressed — feels like a nice-to-have when that connection isn’t as tangible — but the connection still works when it’s a painting you’re looking at, and the emotional rewards are just as real.

When you can’t or don’t want to interact with other people — and we all do at times — you can still engage with something beautiful that’s human-made. It’s a different form of connection but ultimately another part of our social balance, and an essential one at that.

If you’re an artist, you’ll feel that “art is banned to the bench” almost wherever you go. Youtube is laden with productivity hacks, make money fast schemes, and formulaic-format videos in every niche. Offices, coffee shops, and AirBnBs all look the same. On writing platforms, you can publish a you can publish a run-of-the-mill listicle and get lots of likes, but post an artsy piece and… crickets. Even the music you listen to and the titles you see in airport bookstores all repeat the same words and themes, and if you’re the kind of artist who tries to make a living from their work, you’ll likely know why: What’s popular pays the bills, but supplying more of what’s popular rarely feels like making art — especially not the kind of art you’d be making if someone gave you enough money to retire and free creative rein.

If you’re not an artist, you might not notice the absence of art in your life for months, but sooner or later, you’ll feel it — and then miss it almost everywhere you go. You’ll yearn to see an indie movie for once instead of yet another blockbuster. You’ll start thinking coloring your own t-shirts with your kids is actually a good idea. Why throw more money down American Apparel’s throat? Whatever specific shape your creative oxygen tent might take, room for art is something you’ll have to make. It’ll rarely find its way into your life on its own, and even when it does, it’ll usually be in too short supply to really achieve its desired effect.

If you’re an artist, making room for art means giving the world what you want. It’s okay to pay the bills first, but if you toss your creativity off the wagon altogether, why choose the artist’s professional struggle to begin with? Every now and then, make something for the sole reason that you want to make it. Do not look up industry trends. Refuse to do research. Let something shimmering emerge fully from your heart and brain alone. Your wallet might not thank you for it, but your soul most certainly will.

If you’re not a practicing artist, making room for art means carving out life-space for your quirks. In one way or another, we’re all far from average, but if we don’t let our more strange ends breathe from time to time, we’ll emotionally suffocate altogether. That can mean going to Comic-Con dressed up like Pikachu as much as it can mean watching a four-hour video of someone painting the figurines for their Warhammer tabletop game, but it always means looking for, expressing, and satisfying the creative urges for connection only you seem to feel — because ultimately, it’s never just you. There’s always another soul out there who feels the same, and perhaps they have already created the art that’ll connect the two of you across time and space.

Whether you keep your Pokémon cards in a custom display, take a Sunday afternoon to write something few people will read, or go out of your way to visit an exhibition you’d not usually visit, please: Make room for art. It’s a more important part of life than we give it credit for, and the stakes have never been this high.