Sunrise Over the Nez Perce, Yellowstone NP  (Copyright J Riley Stewart)

I admit I’m as a newborn when it comes to knowing about art and artists. I’m not professionally trained in the arts. I can’t draw a straight line. And for most of my adult life, I lived in the left-brained, analytical world of science. But I now see that art has always been a large part of my life. I just didn’t know it. Perhaps it’s the same with you.

If someone were to ask me 35 years ago if I liked art, I would have said “no.” Loving art wasn’t a macho thing in the 80s. I didn’t really know what art was unless someone told me something was “art.”  I hadn’t the exposure to art required to have an opinion about it one way or the other.

It turns out I was in the majority.  It’s commonly thought that only 25% of Americans claim to like “art.” And about half of those actually buy or collect significant art pieces.  I wonder if that’s really true, that only 1 in 4 of us “like” art.

Thirty-five years ago I was art stupid. When I later saw Michaelangelo’s “David” in real life I was awestruck. But this didn’t make me an art lover. When I saw the “Mona Lisa;” again, awestruck. But that didn’t make me an art lover either. When I saw an original Ansel Adams’s “Moon Over Half Dome?”…. Again, awestruck; again, not a convert.

I know now that I remained art stupid through all these experiences (and many more), but something was changing in my mind and heart. I began respecting the emotions that art could evoke in me, if I just gave it a chance. Each of these experiences added just a bit of knowledge to my personal art appreciation toolkit, but not enough to know what to do with these bits. I just knew that I enjoyed the individual experiences beyond words.

Creation and love of art is a uniquely human attribute. Something in our DNA compels us to consciously create and love art.  This is not speculation or hyperbole: study after study has shown the value of art in our human lives. Some even believe that art isn’t merely a luxury as others claim; that art is, in fact, necessary to healthy, happy human lives. Why else would our earliest ancestors spend valuable time drawing on the walls instead of gathering food if they weren’t compelled to? Why do hospital patients heal faster when they have art as part of their treatment?

If art is such a universally valuable thing in our lives, why do so many discredit that value? Perhaps one explanation involves motivations developed in us as youngsters. From our earliest days we are encouraged to develop skills that can lead to a commercially viable trade or profession. Being an artist is not known as one of those promising enterprises, is it? When we think of “artist” we tend to attach adjectives such as “starving” or “quirky” to it.

We can’t truly appreciate art (or anything else for that matter) until we know something about it. At some point in my past something clicked in me that made me want to experience again those feelings I felt when I saw “Mona Lisa” and “Half Dome.” I remembered pouring over pictures of those marvelous landscapes by Thomas Moran and Bierstadt even as a kid, lost in the fantasy of it all.  I eventually was drawn to photography and fine prints, and developed a voracious appetite for photography’s history, its heroes, its processes, and its masterpieces. Ask me today if I’m an art-lover and I would say “absolutely.” I’m a convert.

Here’s a challenge:  Make a New Year’s Resolution to learn more about how art can add value to your own life. Visit local galleries and art museums. Talk to artists about their work (they love to talk about their passion, by the way). Check out photography and other art books from your local library. Subscribe or follow art sites on Facebook or Pinterest. And if you see something you love, buy the damn thing before someone else does. Live with it and you’ll find it will soon become part of you.

Don’t fight the natural inclination to embrace art. To do so only violates what’s in your DNA. And who needs that stress?

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