I posted a meme on my Facebook page the other day that said, “Art Should Disturb the Comfortable and Comfort the Disturbed.” It sparked an interesting conversation with a couple of my friends regarding what we took this to mean. A couple thought the “comfortable” referred to the “rich and powerful,” that we disturb those at the top with our voices through art. I like that, but I took it to mean something else entirely; plus, who are the “disturbed” to be comforted in that scenario?
I took it to mean comfortable regarding mental health.
For example, my mind went back to our visit to the NGA in DC and the Ann Truitt exhibit. She is a minimalist artist in the truest sense of the word. The “comfortable,” or satiated, might find her art boring, obvious, easy, elementary. But the “disturbed” might find solace and tranquility, paired with strength and stability, as they walk through the installation.
In an interview that plays on a tiny screen in the back room of the tower where her exhibition is housed, she talks about a deep violet color put at the base of her red pillar. She spoke of how perfect the hue was — dark enough to be perceived as black — and how she knew it would be all but invisible to the viewer. And it was! I went back in and studied the red pillar. I really had to search for the band of deep purple at the bottom. Still, it was so important to her that it be there and that it was that specific hue. This is comforting to me as I find connection with others who develop a laser focus and passion about things that many might see as trite or irrelevant.
So what is disturbed? Who is disturbed? Am I disturbed?
I am unashamed to admit I have had my battles with mental illness. Don’t get me wrong. I love my life and am proud of who I am and what I have created for myself. But am I satiated? No. Am I ill-at-ease? Yes. That is who I am. This is the disturbed I refer to. The overly passionate, hyper-sensitive empathy that hears the forms and smells the colors.
So the general public has been known to poo-poo Ann Truitt’s art. “I could do that.” “It is just a white canvas.” Maybe they are the “comfortable?” They don’t need art. It disturbs them. They are offended. They worry that the wool is being pulled over their eyes. A trick is being played on them. Art is an illusion after all. They don’t get it.
But maybe they aren’t satiated either. Maybe they are ill-at-ease also, but art can’t help them. Wow! That is an even worse conclusion than, “Art comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.” These people who would make fun of a blank canvas are also disturbed but can’t be comforted. So. “Art comforts some disturbed and disturbs some further?” The other one is catchier.