A live arts experience can be fleeting. A play or concert might only last two hours. A poetry reading – even less. A visit to a museum offers palpable pleasure while physically there, but, as they say, you can’t take it with you. By the time we return home the multiple, finer details of a cultural experience are already fading. Sifting through the day’s mail or cleaning the dishes, we might only remember key moments or an overall impression of what we’d seen just hours before. Some of us wish the moment could have lasted longer or, better yet, come home with us to be played over and over again. An arts experience, so moving at the time, is impermanent. Why, then, do so many of us spend our hard-earned money on an art experience, when the benefits could be perceived as nothing but temporary?
In India, during festivals and celebrations, women spend hours creating elaborate, patterned designs on their door steps called Rangoli. Made of colored rice, dry flour or even flower petals, the art is intricate and beautiful. Despite the arduous process involved with creating them, Rangoli are meant to be ephemeral. Rain, wind and even insects slowly devour the evidence that these works of art ever existed, erasing the brilliant designs forever. Rangoli, you see, is used as a symbol of the spiritual process; it’s meant to recognize the impermanence of things and a desire to live in the present. The women who create Rangoli know, before they even begin, that their work will be beautiful, and celebrated, and gone – but also that it will be remembered, and that they’ll be asked to reinvent the process when the time is right, with new patterns, colors, and inspiration. This ancient tradition recognizes that creating, in life and in art, is a meaningful, significant cycle.
However temporary, an arts experience enhances our lives in ways that are too numerous to count. The arts allow us to bear witness, share in our humanity, and connect with others. They inspire us, and remind us of our best – and worst – qualities. Whatever specific memories may fade, the arts continue to nourish us long after after the curtain has gone down or the museum doors have closed. The memories and lasting effects on our intellect and soul are undeniable. No one ever questions why we eat three times a day. Why question our daily intake of the arts? After all, “Feed the body food and drink, it will survive today. Feed the soul art and music, it will live forever.” (Jan Hartman, One Special Night)