Art as Transformative Experience

Often, while lecturing to a group, I’ll state my belief the what makes something a work of art is its capacity to change how the attentive, passionate viewer experiences and responds to the world for the rest of their lives.

Once, I was called on this in a question: a Professor from a university asked me when this had happened, with which works of art. I stumbled at that moment, thinking about encounters with major works in museums, and I don’t think I came up with a very satisfactory response.

Somewhat flustered, I thought about this for the next several days and then realized I had not thought of the obvious – the best answer is with all of them.busta-singer

All of them, mostly in little ways. Returning again and again. And then there are the capacities of a single work of art by an artist to bring to recollection of other works of that artist. To bring back that experience so that all is present.

It is really about the direct experience of art. Everything else we learn about art or artists or aesthetic theory is supplemental and peripheral (though it often saves the viewer time in their best realization of art).

And then a gallery is a place where the vision of an artist has the opportunity to find an audience. It is not about fashion or celebrity, nor is it about marketing or commodity. It is about transformative experience.

Next to the chair that I sit in most evenings, I keep a copy of William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. It is a classic of sorts, always in print since its initial publication in 1902. Admittedly, I have not read the whole book – just the preface, table of contents and then dipping in here and there. I keep the book close because just being there reminds me of what the book is about. As the title indicates, it is about religious experience, but what is most interesting is that the book is not so much about any religion or even religion in general, but how people experience religion and how those ways cross cultures and continents, uniting us as humanity. The book avoids dogma and scripture, as well as commentaries on dogma and scripture. It is about experience.

Artists are prophets, seekers and seers of truth, fully human with as much vice and virtue as anyone else. Still, they have the capacity to lead us into transcendence. Provided that we devote a reasonable amount of attention, passion, and time.

from the work in progress The Importance of Art in an Ordinary Place.


25 Years, 25 Artists (25th Anniversary Exhibition): January 3 to February 1

Paul O’Keeffe: February 14 to March 22

Cecelia Philllips: February 14 to March 29

Michael Loderstedt: March 7 to April 19

Matthew Kolodziej: March 7 to April 12

NOADA (Northern Ohio Art Dealers Association) Art Expo: March 14, 15, 16


William Busta Gallery

2731 Prospect Avenue

Cleveland, Ohio 44115


11 am to 5:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday