Unlike the Roman, the British, or any other Empires under the sun, the Empire of Art rises from grass roots just about everywhere. While its citizens speak a variety of tongues, they are understood pretty well universally. If you include the larger sphere of the written arts, photography, film, video and the spoken word, it’s one of the greatest communities in the history of mankind. This Empire has as many states as there are artists, and all these states have unique and sovereign constitutions. And while many have agendas, motives and philosophies, many others are content to simply honour our world and its life.
Unlike religions, which have a history of divisiveness, the Empire of Art, while full of factions and schisms, brings people together on common ground. While it will not be possible to run out of words to talk or write about it, art’s unique quality is that it’s a “doing” thing. It’s mainly a private activity, like prayer, which takes place in our own sanctuaries. Further, it seems logical to the citizens of this Empire that they have as much right to honour our world at a distance as closer to home. “Citizen of the World,” is a privilege frequently claimed by artists.
Does this Empire have any moral fibre? When we look around we cannot help but be amazed at the facility of our collective hands. These hands assemble, draw attention, make beautiful, monumentalize, and take part in ongoing creation. When we look at the hands of Da Vinci, Gauguin, or Andrew Wyeth, we see evidence of this Empire. The contribution of our Empire is destined to continue and to be even greater, and the greatest of all will be respect.
PS: “Art is a language, an instrument of knowledge, an instrument of communication.” (Jean Dubuffet)
Esoterica: As an aid to quality, it’s useful to realize we’re taking part in something greater. At an ancient mahogany easel, an Underwood portable, or at a Formica table in a kitchen corner, we make modest objects that have a brilliant and civilizing potential.
This letter was originally published as “The Empire of Art” on February 16, 2001.
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