The genesis of my love for studying art can be traced pretty concretely, in my mind, to a moment during my senior year of high school. We were learning about classical column styles in my art history class — Ionic, Doric, Corinthian. As I was driving through D.C. the following weekend with my family, I glanced at the Supreme Court building and was shocked to discover that I recognized the elaborately designed, carefully fluted pillars adorning its front.
I started babbling about Corinthian column and how the levels on the Colosseum had pillars of varying intricacy and why that was significant and how amazing it was, honestly, that the Colosseum was still standing 2000 years later? My family was confused — I was enraptured. For the first time, I felt ownership of the seemingly archaic and obscure architecture that characterized the city around me.
Studying the history and iconography of art was, suddenly, a game — cracking a secret code that I hadn’t previously known existed. It imbued everyday structures with meanings that I could now decipher.
Visual cues abound in daily life, and visual literacy changed the way I experienced said daily life. This isn’t meant as a love letter to art history. It’s about the importance of art as a subject, as a means of discovery and in a more nuanced and poignant way, the details of the world around us. Every person deserves to experience a similar moment of awe and ownership and understanding — to feel in tune, if only momentarily, with the visions of fellow humans both modern and ancient.
Art, in all its forms, can seem unnecessary. It’s not. I can say that with certainty. It might not be entirely necessary, in strictly pragmatic terms, but it is, I believe, utterly essential. The existence of the National Endowment for the Arts shouldn’t be up for debate, especially when the proposed cut — a package deal including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — constitutes 0.0625 percent of the federal budget.