Paul Gauguin – “D'où venons-nous?”
Paul Gauguin – “D'où venons-nous?”

What is art and why is creativity so important?

Art reflects our history, traditions, culture, and something about ourselves. It allows us to dive deep into different topics, our emotions and provides opportunity to reflect on.

As French artist Paul Gauguin once asked in his painting, “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” Gauguin painted this massive canvas in 1897 and provided a description of the painting’s esoteric imagery in a letter to his friend Daniel de Monfried, who managed Gauguin’s career in Paris.

Two figures dressed in purple confide their thoughts to one another. An enormous crouching figure, out of all proportion and intentionally so, raises its arms and stares in astonishment upon these two, who dare to think of their destiny. A figure in the centre is picking fruit. Two cats near a child. A white goat. An idol, its arms mysteriously raised in a sort of rhythm, seems to indicate the Beyond. Then, lastly, an old woman nearing death appears to accept everything, to resign herself to her thoughts. She completes the story! At her feet a strange white bird, holding a lizard in its claws, represents the futility of words”. Paul Gauguin 1898

Not only does Gauguin’s text clarify some of the painting’s abstruse, idiosyncratic iconography, it also invites us to “read” the image.

Art embodies critical, analytical, and conceptual thinking and creates a space to let us explore and learn about different concepts and perspectives.

What is art? What is creativity? Andrew Huberman, an American neuroscientist and tenured associate professor in the department of neurobiology and psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, suggests it is “the ability to take existing elements from the physical and/or the thought world or from any domain in life, mood, thinking, information and to reorder those into novel combinations”.

Street art by Daniel Eime
Street art by Daniel Eime

However, it does not mean that all novel combinations are creative but should “reveal something fundamental about the world that surprises us”.

What is the common definition of ‘art’? The word “art” originates from the Latin ars or artem, which means “skill”, “craft”, “work of art”. A “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation”, a “branch of learning”, “an occupation requiring knowledge or skill”, or “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects”.

We might also tend to think of art in terms of the latter definition, “the conscious use of skill” in the “production of aesthetic objects”. However, does art only serve an aesthetic purpose? I think a dictionary definition is limiting.

Art and creative movements often played a role in social change and helped shape political perspectives – it gives a voice to freedom. Art has been at the centre or the beginning of political change.

In Portugal, there is a history of street art that allowed a voice to express the frustrations of a generation dejected by a repressive regime. Salazar’s ‘Estado Novo’ enabled him to exercise vast political powers. The regime used censorship and the PIDE secret police to quell any vocal opposition.

One opposition leader, Humberto Delgado, who openly challenged Salazar’s regime in the 1958 presidential election, was first exiled and then killed by Salazar’s secret police. There still exists today a strong presence of political tone in Portugal’s street art culture.

Art has been a part of human culture for many centuries. It has been used to express emotions, to communicate ideas and it has been a way to pass down knowledge from one generation to another.

Art is important in our cultural and social lives because it is the medium through which we process our emotions and ideas. It is also an important tool for learning, teaching, and communicating. Art plays a role in recording history, and many artworks help us understand the culture of previous generations.

Daniel Eime (1986) is a renowned Portuguese painter, street artist and set designer, internationally famed for his large-scale murals of extraordinary beauty.

Eime’s stencilled works of profound realism, created with different hues and shades, depict intriguing characters that cast an enigmatic gaze. With exceptional skill in creating stencils and use of paint brush, Eime successfully captures, with every line found on their faces, the history of our united human story.

By Durães-West
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Justin Durães-West is a contemporary artist and painter living and working in Portugal. His new studio, under construction in the Alentejo, is intended to be a creative space where artists, technologists, digital nomads and computer programmers can live, create, work and explore new artistic dimensions.

His latest works are on exhibition at Galeria da Livraria Miosótis, Lisbon, and QUADRO in Almancil, Algarve. Pin locations and opening times can be found by following this link