Last night, I went out at midnight to take in Nuit Blanche. They bill it as an all night contemporary art thing and they are dead on the money. It's a night of wandering all over downtown taking in art in all its many forms. It's a truly wonderful event. It runs from sunset to sunrise and the crowds are positively huge. It's all these people of all ages from all walks of life taking a night to enjoy art.
Like all the best art things, there were things I loved, things I didn't, things I thought were cool and things I just did not understand.
Wandering around downtown, taking in both the crowds and the installations, I had a lot of time to think about art. Recently, our wonderfully forward thinking conservative government cut a bunch of arts funding because "normal people don't care about art". I would argue that, due to the ignorance of modern politicians, normal people have not been given proper exposure to art, but what would I know? Of course, a night like last night goes a long way to proving the conservatives wrong.
I don't get it when people sneer at art because they don't understand it. As if they need to completely understand everything to make it worthwhile. What a ridiculous notion. I mean, I don't understand how my microwave works but, with a little faith and a few instructions, I can have a bowl of popcorn in three minutes.
Then there's the internet. This morning I wrote a letter to a friend in New Zealand. Due to the wonders of modern technology, I just expect that she will read the message the next time she turns her computer on. Do I understand how that works? Not really. Does this lack of understanding impact my ability to use and enjoy the internet? No more than not understanding how my remote controls works affects my ability to watch the hockey game on Saturday night.
Understanding is over-rated. I always go back to what Ian Tyson said about Ondaatje's novel Divisadero in a Globe and Mail Interview - "I love that book. I don't understand it, but I love it." That's how I feel about some truly great art. That's how I feel about some truly great poetry and novels and music. I have never been afraid to be mystified. Sometimes I try to unravel the mystery. Sometimes I leave it be.
There are a lot of things I don't understand about art. There always will be. This does not stop me from going out and experiencing it. Why should it? I believe that arts and culture are the backbone of a society, a touchstone for the people and a way of recording who we are. After all, what would we know about the ancient Romans or Greeks, if not for art?
Last night proved that I am not alone. Last night showed that even in an age when people are finding less reasons to go out - what with the internet and home theatre systems - that we are still social creatures and that we still communicate best through art.