Why do we like art?

"I'm interested in art," is a vague sentence, and not a particularly intelligent one, but I know no other way to put it. To me, it is incredible that you can look at a painting, and it may mean absolutely nothing to you, you may not know anything about its history, or its composition, or even why you like it, but none of that matters - that does not stop you from being unable to tear your gaze from it, from being incredibly moved by it, from feeling it in a way that words themselves cannot be felt.

And paintings can bring up so many feelings. I've seen paintings that make me feel safe, that make me feel  I belong to them. I could be thrust right into the middle of the colour and the movement, and I could curl up in a corner, and nestle myself against a pigment of paint, and find peace. I've seen paintings that have disturbed me, and scared me, and yet, I could not move away. They could root me to the spot, and I would not know why, and that is part of the fascination, because I think when you are confronted with something that shakes you to your core, and you don't know why, it makes you ask questions that you would rarely allow yourself to ask. I've seen paintings that I've just enjoyed looking at because they are so goddamn pretty, even though you're not supposed to say that, and I've seen paintings dripping with history that tell the stories of people long dead, long forgotten, reaching out to you, even as you step forward, through the frame and through the canvas, allowing their story to become a part of your own.

Today, modern art is often about installations, but I have not yet learnt to appreciate them. I don't like installations because they are not permanent, they are not intended to be permanent, and one of the things I find comforting about art, and about books, is the permanence they offer in a world where everything is constantly changing. They outlive their creator, and so, something created by man, becomes greater than man, and - most fascinating of all - turns into something man can never completely understand, and can never wholly grasp.

I'm working in an art gallery at the moment, and this is a question that has often been thrown at me. It is a question only the most honest of my friends ask me, because it's one that you're not supposed to really ask: what is the big deal about art?

In the world I've been exposed to, inside the gallery, not the one I've been brought up in, the honest answer is that art is a business, like everything else. A lot of people buy art because they see it as an investment, or because it cements a certain position they have reached in society, whether financial or intellectual.

But, if you shove those issues aside for a moment, if you shove most of that world aside, as well as the people that belong to it, you might find something else. There is a book by Tracy Chevalier, it is called Girl with a Pearl Earring. In that book, the painter Vermeer tells the servant girl Griet, to look at the clouds outside the window, and then he asks her what colour they are.

"White," replies Griet.

The painter tells her to look again, and a little confused, she does. And then, as she looks, perhaps with a furrowed brow, she begins to see that the clouds are not white at all, but yellow and purple and pink and even green, and they all come together, to form a perfect pearl coloured cloud.

This is what that something else is, this is what lies at the heart of a world that has turned into an industry, and this is why, for all the people who buy art because it is a symbol of money or intelligence or social position, there are many who buy a painting because they like to look at it, because it gives them pleasure, because they find beauty in it and they like beautiful things, and there are even a few, who like art, not all art, but some art, because it takes them to a place that cannot be found anywhere else on earth, a place that is close to divine, despite being created by stained human hands.

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