from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #12


     What is art?  Definitions of it can emphasize art as any of the following: expression, imitation, playful creativity, 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.  Schopenhauer 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 thinkingthinking that happens without words or logic, and can involve images, intuition, emotions, and bodily feelings. 

Their 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-



flict, even 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 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."  He equated 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!     

Figure #12a

What Artists Say About Art

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.    Edgar Degas

I shut my eyes in order to see.

 Paul Gauguin

Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist.   Edward Hopper

Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.  Rene' Magritte

I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music. Joan Miro

I don't believe in an art that is not born out of man's need to open his heart.  Edvard Munch

Why do you try to understand art? Do you try to understand the song of a bird? 

Pablo Picasso

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.   Victor Hugo

To send light into the darkness of men's hearts such is the duty of the artist.

Robert Schumann


Figure #12b

Greek Muses*

Calliope, muse of epic  or heroic poetry

Clio, muse of history

Erato, muse of love or  erotic poetry

Euterpe, muse of music and lyrical poetry

Melpomene,  muse of tragedy

Polyhymnia, muse of sacred songs

Terpsichore, muse of choral song and dance

Thalia, muse of comedy and bucolic poetry

Urania,  muse of sky watchers 

* Originally these were nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology, who were patrons of the arts; above are the "canonical" muses established in more modern times to span the realm of creativity 

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