Filling the walls


Emma Bovill

June 14, 2023

You enter a commercial art gallery with a different mindset to a public art venue. There is an underlying assumption that a transaction can be made and ownership can be transferred. The gift shops of public galleries offer the opportunity to take a small memento away – a postcard, a print, a book – but a retail gallery allows you to be physically part of the world of art by buying an artwork for your living space or gifting a piece of art to another to do the same.

So what are we doing when we buy art? What need are we satisfying? What behaviours are we displaying? Going back to the primal, art is a voicing of not only lived experience but intense emotion – fear and triumph. Animals account for the majority of cave art, and not just any animals either. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “during the earliest millennia when cave art was first being made, the species most often represented… were the most-formidable ones.”

We no longer live in caves, with a few exceptions, but we still seek to fill our walls. Even windows serve a function beyond letting in light and air and shutting out the weather, apertures to connection with the outside world, the captivating changeable elements and the infinite beauty and variety of nature. Cave art is considered to have a symbolic or religious function, so what purpose does art serve many millennia later?

Discussion of watercolour 'Amsterdam' by Nur Ilham and 'The Model' oil on canvas by Paola Alì

“We only put something on our wall if it has a backstory and a meaning,” says abstract painter Emily Elton. “The art we choose for ourselves is essentially your personality living externally from you. A pictorial representation of a memory which would otherwise only exist in isolation within you, an opportunity to show a part of you that others might not know exists or a way to keep those who are no longer with us present visually.”

Couched in these terms, art possesses a numinous power, prompting acts of contemplation not so very different to the pause for reflection that occurs within religious buildings, themselves so often adorned with artistic renderings, from the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to the simplest stained-glass window. Art simultaneously gives us a means to express ourselves, a licence for self-analysis and a challenge to the framing of our identity. It’s powerful stuff.

Contemplating 'Red Sky' abstract oil by Danny Cawley

Which is why you will never have a boring conversation in an art gallery. In fact, you may find yourself revealing details of your life, your past and your hopes for the future you had no intention of dredging up or divulging. Stepping over the threshold takes a degree of curiosity and receptiveness before you even consider what’s on the walls and as your eyes take in what’s displayed the carousel of life unconsciously kicks into motion. Art becomes mediative and therapeutic.

We fill our walls because it fills (and fulfils) us. We’re sentient beings and by stimulating our consciousness we evolve and add to our inner resources. Nature sculpts and paints and we simply seek to do the same, using our natural and necessary powers of ingenuity to apply this across different mediums. No matter the form, art prompts a response, and in displaying it in our homes for all to see and some to comment on, we increase our collective ability for communication and collaboration.


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