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Art and Heartbreak

Love and art go back a long way. Besides religion and nature (paying homage to either is also a form of love), romantic love is art’s oldest subject and inspiration. Art is a testament to humanity's capacity for love and the joy and pain it brings. From the first cave drawings carved on rocks 65,000 years ago to the contemporary painter’s brush, humans have been pouring their hearts out on whatever surface and with whatever tools available.

Despite the beauty and power of love, it lacks permanence. Of course, there are instances of love that last a lifetime, but most of the time, they do not. They are moments in time, fleeting and quickly forgotten by all but the lovers. When we are gone, what will happen to the memories of our great loves? They will soon disappear and sink into the bottomless well of emotions humans have been pouring their hearts and souls into for millions of years. The most momentous and important event of an individual's life is as cosmically crucial as the death of an ant. Our memories and emotional resonances die with us unless we translate them into art. Monuments to our experiences, our loves, our miseries, our joys, artworks do not remember like a tombstone but a living person because they do not just detail an event but the way it felt. Graveyards come from death; they are markers of death and not life. Art springs from life; it is told through the eyes of the living; it chronicles humanity, not its absence. A museum holds within its walls not a sterile history but a living history; good art remains alive until it loses its material presence.

Love takes us from the depths of despair to the heights of happiness and back again like nothing else. Perhaps the most extreme of common human experiences, love can happen to anyone and usually does. Wrapped up in the ecstasy of its heady peaks, we make art in fits of joyous creativity. However, rarely does the happily-in-love viewer seek out the companionship of an exuberant work about love (why would they? They are happily in love). Instead, the heartbreak and pain of a dying love draw crowds because there is comfort in knowing one is not alone in one’s anguish.

These expressions of misery and disappointment are cathartic for both the artist and the viewer. The artist finds an outlet for their angst, and the viewer discovers comradery. Both are motivated by the same things: the need to express something that transcends words, to find some measure of control over their wayward feelings, and the need to understand and clarify emotions so powerful they cannot be handled internally. Art is a material manifestation of the temporary—a state of being physically brought into the world. To give a face and form to one's sadness is a balm to one's otherwise indescribable internal strife. It is a way to face one's problems and regain some semblance of control over one's mind. Art offers solace to creators and consumers alike.


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