The function of art, or at least one of the functions of art, is to show us how beauty can make us feel like better people: more relaxed, more open and more able to take on whatever life might throw at us. Great art works do this by speaking directly to our emotional core, in a soothing and instructive voice: showing us that there is peace in this world, and that we are able to find that peace simply by looking inside ourselves. When we look at a piece of art that has soothed us in this way, we know that we are not really looking at, say, a field or a mountain, but at landscape art paintings; and we know that the arrangement of lines and colours in a piece of modern abstract art canvas are exactly that, just paint on canvas. And yet in both cases something reaches past all the material facts – that this is a simple arrangement of two dimensional colours on canvas – and becomes something much deeper.
There is a very real sense in which good original painting can calm you, can give you those moments of peace that you so desperately need at the end of a long day in the modern world.
Let us look first at the ability of landscape art to deliver a real sense of peace into a home. Landscape art paintings remind us of the feelings that we get when we encounter a real landscape – feelings of serenity, of peace and of an appreciation of beauty. But they do something more. A landscape art painting is able to distil the feelings you get when you are looking at, or are in, a real landscape – so looking at a piece of landscape art on the wall of your home may actually allow you to connect with the peace you get from the natural world in a more ordered way. That is because the real natural world is so big and confusing that it is difficult to respond to properly. Landscape art paintings are smaller, more perfectly formed. They offer a digest of the real world, which can actually deliver a purer feeling of peace to a viewer.
Modern abstract art does the same kind of thing, but for human feelings. Abstract art is deliberately non representational, which is to say that it does not try to be a picture “of” anything in particular. Instead, it is an arrangement of lines, shapes and colours. The arrangement may help an observer to feel a certain emotion – like peace, or calm, or quiet joy. Again, though – real emotions are quite confusing and large things. So paintings that help us confront those emotions can actually help us to feel a purer and more guided form of them, modern abstract art can make you relax more than an actual attempt to examine feelings of peace or comfort – because the art work is contained within a frame, or on a canvas, and so is much better defined than a raw feeling.
Both abstract art and landscape art paintings have this property: that they can give you a more organised version of a large idea or feeling and that means perfect relaxation.