The Sunday Magazine: Why Art? by Eleanor Davis


Technology is a wonderful thing. One thing I marvel at is the ability to read the comic books I want to read on my tablet. It also allows for the service I use to recommend new releases for me. I usually know about the superhero ones before they are recommended. What has been great is the small one-shot stand-alone graphic novels which I look at to see what might be interesting. A few months ago, a title popped up which intrigued me enough to see what it was about. It has turned out to be one of the more thought provoking pieces of writing I’ve read. The book is “Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis.

The title of the book is a question asked by many. As a society we have to decide how to value art while also deciding what it provides to it. What makes this version of answering that question is Ms. Davis is how “Why Art?” starts as one thing and ends somewhere completely unexpected.

The first part of the book is a guidebook on doing art. It is clever in that the drawings are in black-and-white but they are labeled with lettering which tells you what color they should be. She believes each reader can effectively project their version of the color to fill in the white space. The guidebook starts you down the path of projecting your color into the pages. It was so successful for me that for the one colored section I was jarred for a second. Ms. Davis suggests color is how we effectively describe emotion over how we describe the shade of an object. Throughout the first half the spare prose along with the drawings asking of me to participate I am drawn into making my own art of the imagination. This is all technique in the end even if it is taking place in my own head.

The switch comes with the introduction of Dolores who is an artist. The back half is a more traditionally told story focusing on Dolores. When we meet her, she has had success but is trying something new. Those who liked her previous work have trouble letting go. Dolores feels the answer to the titular question is one which includes her personal evolution being seen in her art. Then society collapses. The drawings describing this is one of the places where our mental work in the guidebook pays off. The drawings are still black-and-white but I don’t see them that way. There is the palette of my mind overwriting the white. As part of rebuilding society art is seen as a critical building block of that process.

The thing I’ve taken away from “Why Art?” is the viewer is critical to its existence. Ms. Davis doesn’t want art to be passively taken in but actively collaborated with. Even if it is only in your mind’s eye. It has had an effect on my viewing of art as the thoughts from the book were rippling through my consciousness at my last gallery stroll.

“Why Art?” answers the question by challenging you to believe it is because you are always part of it.

Mark Behnke