What is art?
Definitions of it can
emphasize art as any of the following: expression, imitation, playful
insight into Reality, and
communicating feeling. They
can link it to beauty, pleasure, empathy, and both idealizing common
daily experience and escaping from it. It can be defined to
include a wide range of creative works used to portray images and
express feelings, including drawing, painting, sculpture, music, dance,
theater, literature, architecture, etc.
All art, which we consider here in the most general sense,
involves creation. Like God
in the book of Genesis, artists can be depicted as creating some-thing
out of nothing. Many see
artistic creation—in which something that is born in an encounter the
artist has with Reality, taken out of his or her imagination and brought
into the world for others to experience, as does Pushkin in "The
Poet"— as a sacred offering.
felt art allows people to transcend their egocentric perspective and
contemplate the universal and eternal.
For Heidegger, true art reveals deep hidden truth.
The intensity of the encounter artistic creation involves can
range from mundane and escapist through various degrees of absorption,
heightened consciousness, joy, and ecstasy.
Rollo May links this last term with "a magnificent summit of
creativity which [achieves] a union of form and passion with order and
vitality." Beyond that
on the intensity scale, the encounter can bring cosmic consciousness
(see worldview theme #7A), and allow, in the words of painter, poet, and
mystic William Blake (1757-1827), one to "hold Infinity in the palm
of your hand, and Eternity in an hour."
Intimately connected with personal experience of Reality,
artistic creation is more closely tied to the realm of tacit knowledge.
In contrast, the more intellectual activity of scientific
investigation is set more squarely in the realm of explicit knowledge.
Put another way, artists typically think differently than
scientists, relying more on so called creative thinking—thinking
that happens without words or logic, and can involve images, intuition,
emotions, and bodily feelings.
perception of the universe is different as well. For many artists the universe is unorganized—full of transient chaos
whose workings can't be fully comprehended.
(Some imagine it linked to the trickster!)
In contrast, scientists live in an orderly universe—governed by
natural laws they seek to understand.
Artistic creativity, according to physicist and writer Arthur
Koestler, happens in more than one so called frame of reference —often
where two different frames intersect.
Here there can be conflict—something intimately connected with
such creativity. Thus poet
Robert Frost wrote, "I had a
lover's quarrel with the world."
Artist Pablo Picasso claimed, "Every act of creativity is
first an act of destruction."
Some have posited that inner con-
intense mental anguish and suffering, always pre-cedes truly great
artistic creation. Many of its creators
have suffered from mood disorders, anxiety, depression,
despair—including Beethoven, Blake, Goethe, Michelangelo, Rilke,
Schumann, and Van Gogh. Some
of their lives ended in suicide —including those of 20th century
writers Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway.
Given this connection between art and conflict, not surprisingly
some have incorporated aspects of the arts into conflict resolution
education. (See Figure #47b.)
While both science and art involve observation, the former
connects it with reason, the latter to feelings.
This is not limited to the creator's expression of feelings, but
includes what subjects viewing or experiencing those creations see and
feel. In his classic Stranger
in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein describes what a great artist can
do as follows: "A great artist can look at an old woman, portray
her exactly as she is...and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she
used to be...see that this lovely young girl is still alive, imprisoned
inside her ruined body. He
can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl
born who grew older than eighteen in her heart...no matter what the
merciless hours have done." How
do artists themselves describe what they do?
See Figure #12a.
Certainly people who connect the function of art with emotional
catharsis—a group that most notably begins with Aristotle and extends
to include modern psychotherapists who introduce patients to the healing
power of art—appreciate that before an artist can communicate intense
feelings they have to be profoundly felt.
Thus Dostoevsky wrote,
"Without suffering, happiness cannot be understood."
Hell with "the suffering of being unable to love." Creativity
has also been linked to drugs, alcohol, and addiction.
Linda Leonard sees parallels between what happens in heads of
both creative people and addicts, writing "Both descend into chaos,
into the unknown world of the unconscious.
Both are fascinated by what they find... Both encounter pain,
death, and suffering."
It has been suggested that the "all
at once" revelations, intuitive wholistic leaps of creative people
are right-brain centered—in contrast to the linear, sequential
"bit by bit" processing, believed to be a left brain function. One could connect art with right brain / visual thinking
and science with left brain/ analytical thinking—but this is too
simplistic! To some extent,
people use both of these mental capabilities— though it's been
suggested that originally all humans possessed more of a right brain
mentality. While that's
debatable, no one who has seen the roughly 30,000 year old European cave
paintings doubts that human artistic creation is truly ancient. It was old when Greek mythology honored nine
muses (Figure #12b), believed to inspire different kinds of creativity!
Artists Say About Art