An art critic whom I respect recently came out with this statement: "Art does not exist without some commitment on the part of its spectators." I found this most arresting, and I suppose the reason it lingered with me for so many days was that it seemed a clue to the way in which art finds and holds its audience.
Commitment, of course, is an item that is offered, and it can be generated by , or even inspired in, anyone who gains a sense that he's being addressed honestly. The ability of art to be so winning (frequently in surprising ways) is to me one of its most striking features.
Commitment in the art experience is a kind of inner click that goes on inside the onlooker. A connection is madE. He may not understand, in any conventional sense, allm the artist has tried to convey: that may not even be relevant to the work at hand.
What happens is that the work has unlocked in the spectator a recognition that someone else has been feeling or thinking about things in a similar way, has corroborated or expressed something long "known" in some form, and at some level, by him, perhaps even cherished.
Such a bridge does indeed inspire the commitment to the notion that now there is at least one other person in the world who shares with the beholder the ideals embodied in the work of art. And this can be an incredible assortment of thoughts, things which audiences in any other context might not confess to entertaining.
The idea of grace, for instance, can have many artistic metaphors. I have seen inordinately large numbers of ostensibly "ungraceful" individuals thronging to the ballet, of all things. The modish thing to do, of course, but perhaps there is more than fashion or habit at work. The initial pull is one thing, but capturing and holding such a widening audience hints that there is a bridge, however tenuous, under construction. Grace, not to mention the inspiring demonstration of high-level human achievement, must lie a half-asleep object of admiration in many. And an art like ballet, stylized and refined though it may be, can connect one with this in an astonishingly vivid way.
Actually, any highly refined and specialized art, honestly pursued and well executed, can supply its own mode of transcedence, beyond its degree of abstraction to clear communication. It can so compel attention and acceptance at its own level -- and this is the marvel! -- that presently it is seen by others as a truthful act. Hence commitment. This holds equally so for the diminutive Japanese haiku, the gargantuan Romantic symphony, or the soaring modern sculpture. Each contain a metaphor come true for the spectator.
Doubtless an element contributing to this is the fact that all great art, far from being a fragile, dainty dolly, is a steelstrong plumbline straight from the deepest of an artist's experiences, often alloyed from the struggle to make clear to others one's conviction that art can purify man by showing him something remarkable about himself he may have forgotten. There's a renewing perspective brought by the taste of things that are "true for more than a day." It's a perspective, I suppose, on the art of living. And that's worthy of anyone's commitment.