Blog: An Unnecessary Essential

Christine Alfery

Posted on May 15 2020

Blog: An Unnecessary Essential

Featured image: New Life

I have a dear friend and patron who challenges my thinking and I love him very much for that. He doesn’t live close, so we keep our friendship alive with email exchanges. Recently he sent me an article from Vogue magazine with a note ‘you might light this’.

As I read the article “What Does the Art World Look Like Now?” I was struck by a comment from an artist who said:
“Painting in the time of coronavirus . . . from time to time, it has made me feel useless. The experience is humbling and makes my art seem . . . frivolous. An unnecessary essential. . . . I know it is not as important as people who put their lives on the line. But isn’t it a contribution to deliver a semblance of beauty in a scorched world?”

“An unnecessary essential”. WOW those three words hit home. They were exactly what I have been feeling and experiencing during this shut down. Unnecessary, yet essential perfectly describes art today.  

It is sad to think my life is unnecessary. But in the big scheme of things I am no more important than a fly on a cow’s back – not very important.  I don’t want it to be unnecessary – I do want it to be essential. 

In graduate school I wrote several papers about a quote from French Philosopher Michel Foucault:

“What strikes me is the fact that, in our society, art has become something that is related only to objects and not to individuals or to life. That art is something which is specialized or done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object but not our life?”

Every time I prepared a paper on this quote I would ask myself - just what does he mean? Finally I think I understand – for now anyway.

What if we lived our lives as a work of art? Often we don’t let them be – just as new artists are afraid to just let their work be. Our lives could be like a work of art, unique, independent, individual, and one of a kind. As I reflect on that – truly reflect deeply on it - my whole being seems to fill up with wonder like a flower wanting to burst. How glorious – how glorious it just fills me up. 

New Life by Christine Alfery
New Life by Christine Alfery

I live my life as a work of art. The values I hold dear are always reflected in my work - freedom, liberty, independence and individualism – they describe my art and my life as a work of art. Yes I may technically be unnecessary, but the idea of life as a work of art fills me up with inspiration that bursts forth into my art – making both me and my art technically unnecessary but essential

 When I told my friend that the phrase “unnecessary yet essential” scared me because if art is unnecessary it could mean that my whole life may be unnecessary. He came back with this lovely reply:

“Yes, I often wonder about that. It doesn't seem like it is really essential in terms of greater things like survival of the fittest, food, clothing, shelter, etc. Yet it pervades human existence. People have felt the need to express themselves as least as far back as 60,000 years or so. To put that in perspective, civilization is about 10,000 years old and the species has been around for 300,000, as far as we know so far. Whether it is necessary or not, it is part of us . . . anyway the Universe is probably laughing at your need to make meaning of your life. It’s sort of like the expression, ‘Want to make God laugh? Tell Him you have a plan’.” 

Thank you dear Ken for the conversation.

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