Paying It Forward is Art

What comes to mind when you hear the word “art”? Here are a few ideas: A landscape painting. A sunset. A custom-made necklace. Starving artists. High society. A concert. Funding cuts.

Some people think of art as something mysterious that only a few “gifted” people have access to. They see great paintings or hear stunning symphonies and know that they can’t begin to unravel their mysteries. They don’t have the right education or upbringing, they think, to talk about art and sound intelligent. Many could learn to paint but are too afraid to begin.

In avant-garde circles art is often defined as something that distorts a stylistic, moral, or societal boundary. Its highest virtue is originality and truth, and as far as the artist is concerned, the opinion of the masses doesn’t mean much. Art is created for its own sake, or for the sake of its creator.

Amid all the differing opinions on art, I like this definition best:

“Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient.”

-Seth Godin

This is important because it has to do with relationships. Giving gifts can draw people, families, and communities together in new ways. These gifts might not have anything to do with music or painting because it isn’t the medium that matters as much as the intent, which is to change a life. Giving a true gift requires kindness, generosity, and sacrifice. To give a good gift, you have to put your life on hold and do something risky.

But risk alone doesn’t make a masterpiece. Spending 6 hours a day practicing the piano alone may be physically and emotionally risky, but it is only art when it benefits someone else. The more sacrifice the gift requires and the more people it touches, the more meaningful it becomes. This applies whether you’re a bus driver, a busker, or the mayor of a city. I believe anyone can create art each day by spending the time and energy necessary to make change in another life.

Here’s a new list of artworks following this definition: Opening the door for someone. Doing something that’s “not my job”. Volunteering your time. Providing a sincere compliment.

Maybe we don’t need to worry about sounding intelligent when talking about art. Let’s just say “thank you”, and pass it on.

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