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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Importance of Memory

The approaching Memorial Day weekend got me thinking about memory and its importance to us on an individual and societal scale.  If we are lucky we learn and build on the past, if not, we get stuck in it. 
I am convinced that memory is part of what triggers a person's attraction to a particular piece of art.   Looking at art can remind a person of a childhood haunt, a lovely vacation, a meaningful time in their past.  It can also put a new spin on that memory and trigger a reassessment of the experience. 
Robert Henri, one of the best American art teachers to ever live, frequently wrote about experience and making art.  The following two quotes are just part of his treasure of knowledge: 
"Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life's experience."
"There is only one reason for art in America, and that is that the people of America learn the means of expressing themselves in their own time, and their own land."
I think the best examples of expressing ourselves in our time and in our land are the memorials in and around the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  If you haven't had the opportunity to see them in person, make the rounds via the Internet.  Study the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the National World War II Memorial, and the other older ones.  They are all expressions of the time and experience of people who lived and died for us all.  

A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on 4th July 2002
Photo by Meutia Chaerani - Indradi Soemardjan original on Wikipedia

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