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All art is local

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The former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O'Neill coined the phrase "All politics is local". Although the saying has achieved something of a universal meaning, meaning all things to all people, when O'Neill said it he was attempting to express the fact that unless a politician on the grander stage addresses the issues of concern to the constituents in his local district, he will soon find himself out of office.

It might just as well be said that "All art is local." As Wassily Kandinsky notes in Concerning the Spiritual in Art:

Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an art that is still-born. It is impossible for us to live and feel, as did the ancient Greeks. In the same way those who strive to follow the Greek methods in sculpture achieve only a similarity of form, the work remaining soulless for all time. Such imitation is mere aping. Externally the monkey completely resembles a human being; he will sit holding a book in front of his nose, and turn over the pages with a thoughtful aspect, but his actions have for him no real meaning.

Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Project Guttenberg

It is a common misconception that art appreciation consists primarily of viewing and understanding the works of great masters of other times and other places. But that proposition reveals an even greater truth. Museum art forces one to study and understand the context in which the art was created, opening up a window to distant lands and bygone times. As wonderful as this phenomenon is, it pales in comparison to its corollary proposition: local art helps one to understand the real world one lives in. The art one sees every day, around one's own home, reveals much about the environment one actually lives in. This is of far greater value than understanding the remote.


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