It takes no talent to destroy great art. Any halfwit can wield the knife or light the dynamite. The gift to create art, on the other hand, is rare and fleeting. There's only one John Lennon but anyone can pull a trigger. This imbalance makes lousy odds for those rooting for beauty over destruction.
|ISIS thug destroying art with a sledge hammer|
|Earlier this year, militants bulldozed Nimrud, the former capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire, in order to destroy its 3,000 year old archaeological treasures.|
Yet, brutes with bulldozers are not the main reason the deck is stacked against art. Nor are government censors, misguided Art Directors, or even collapsing buildings.
When you think about it, lousy odds have always been at the heart of art-making. 2,500 years ago Zhuang Zhou said:
Your life has a limit but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, your effort is doomed.Art is the use of what is limited to pursue what has no limit. As a result, our efforts are always doomed to some measure of imperfection and inadequacy.
I spoke with the illustrator Robert Heindel shortly before his death. Despite a long and successful career, he was haunted by the questions that many artists ask themselves as they run out of time:
You realize when you get to be my age that you aren't really as good as you wanted to be. You have to confront the question, "How good am I really? Why can't I be better?"Art's strengths are rare, but its vulnerabilities are widespread and permanent. Perhaps that's why accountants never make good artists: art's odds are so bad, they make no sense to anyone who understands math. A person who can read actuarial tables wouldn't even take the first step down this path.
So given these lousy odds, is art worth it? Does it really contribute enough to our lives to make it worth the fight? For proof, look no further than Khaled al-As'ad.