Why Art Matters

This semester, I was fortunate enough to receive an internship with Club Canadien de Toronto, a Francophone business club that runs monthly lunches and meetings for French speaking members of the banking, legal, and corporate community in the GTA. On Tuesday January 24, Pierre Lassonde, a businessman, investor, and philanthropist was the guest speaker. He is best known for co-founding the gold mining and trading giant Franco-Nevada Corporation in the early 1980s, and as the founder of York’s Lassonde School of Engineering via a $25 million donation in 2012.

Instead of discussing world markets or the future of gold prices in a ballroom full of people, Lassonde stood at his podium and rhapsodised about the importance of art for twenty minutes. He explained that his patronage and fondness for art intensified significantly after the death of his wife of 30 years. That revelation really struck a chord with me. At that moment, I realized that art is the one and only true representation of the love and beauty that human beings search and strive for.

In today’s world of fiber optic Internet, smartphones, reality television, and social media, most of us have forgotten what art truly is. I can tell you what it’s not: it’s not an Instagram post of an urban skyline with six different filters, it’s not a clever commercial for beer, it’s not a funny billboard for deodorant, and it’s definitely not an autotuned song in an Apple commercial.

Art is the process by which an artist takes all their pain, suffering, emotional baggage, and environmental by-products and condenses it into a small piece of coal that becomes a diamond in the mind’s eye of the beholder. It is the transference of pure emotion from one human being to another, without the need to ever meet or speak. This is why Lassonde, a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars, felt the urge to share his story and encouraged members of the audience to join him in supporting the arts in Canada.

His speech reminded me of the last few pages of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch, in which the protagonist tries to define his relationship with art: “Life is catastrophe… And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky–so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.”

We need art to live almost as much as we need oxygen to breathe. Don’t forget to occasionally turn off your phone and go to a museum. It doesn’t matter if it’s Vermeer or Van Gogh. Partake in the universal experience of human emotion, and I guarantee that you will feel much better afterwards.