Art: The Big Picture
In this post I’ll try to describe the way Art is and works, beyond any ideological preferences. In any case, it will still be the way I see things.
The purpose of this post is to gain clarity on what is actually happening and what it is we are actually trying to do when it comes to Art.
First, let’s ask: What is Art?
In the broadest sense, I see art as the Conscious Expression/Creation of Who We Are.
It is conscious because it is volitional, deliberate, intentional.
Art isn’t happenstance.
It is an Expression and a Creation at the same time: it affirms who we are (not), who we are being at a given moment, what we (choose to) think, how we (choose to) feel, and by expressing it, we are creating it.
And it is fundamentally about who we are, because as we reflect on things we do, things that (may) happen, and how we feel about them, we express a certain worldview, we express a series of definitions about everything (ourselves, others, society, humanity, life…), and perhaps also the desire to question the existing definitions. Our worldview is how we define ourselves; it’s who we are.
Complimentary definitions could be:
Art is energy in motion: it is the energy of who we are being put in motion in an artwork, being expressed into the world.
Art enhances life, by concentrating on a certain portion with a certain intent, it heightens it and intensifies our experience of it.
Art allows us to experience who we are, it is an acting out of who we are.
Art allows us to choose who we are, for while we may follow cultural standards, the creation of any artwork doesn’t presuppose them, thus giving us the choice of why/how/what to express.
Indeed, as we experience art we become aware of who we are being / who we have been, and so I see art as a feedback mechanism for consciousness, potentially providing us with greater awareness.
The How of Art:
Very crudely, I see the cycle going as follows:
an individual within a preexisting culture (cultural conventions) creates artworks — these artworks resonate more or less with the existing culture / audience, operating within an existing movement / conventions / community or creating its own. Other creators may become influenced by the artworks, thus shifting the culture.
The cycle then repeats and never ends.
More on cultural conventions: thanks to the 20th century avant-garde, we now see artistic rules for what they truly are: cultural conventions.
In effect, there are no shoulds and shouldn’ts in art. They are simply choices. Everything is possible.
However, given a specific objective, certain possibilities become preferable. This is made most evident in figurative visual art, especially in the pursuit of realism.
Cultural conventions provide the framework through which we can express (a certain) meaning.
Without them, we wouldn’t understand what the artist is trying to say / do, what the artist means by the artwork. In their absence, art relies heavily in the audience’s interpretation for the discernment of the artworks meaning.
For example, contemporary art mostly defines art as an exercise of freedom from cultural convention.
But I think there’s a deeper layer to cultural conventions: by following (some of) them, twisting them in new ways, breaking them and inventing new ones, we produce effect, we create art that is expressive. This happens most often (I think) when coupled with profoundly felt emotion.
So we see that in art there is the tension between rules/conventions and free expression.
I personally think that great art is a simultaneous expression of both.
I believe this is also due because in that tension we can find complex expressions that say and mean much more than purely mechanic or thoughtless ones.
The Why of Art:
Individuals may have very different reasons for creating, and very different objectives in doing so, but nevertheless, we share the creative impulse.
Depending on who we think ourselves to be, we will define this creative impulse and its purpose in one way or another — whether this impulse has any relation with divinity, whether it offers the possibility for profound human experience, so on and so forth.
Another concept that may be included here is that of responsibility: artists may choose to feel responsible for anything and everything, thus seeking to challenge the status quo if they feel there’s a better way, championing creations / creators which best express their ideals, alongside creating awareness around issues / causes they seek to support.
Creators have the opportunity, not the obligation, to take responsibility for the world within / around them, and by doing so seek to create a better world.
Summary: I think that when we forget the creative impulse we share, we get caught up in the different ways we have of expressing it, tying it to ideologies that justify it and thus creating opposing, conflicting views.
I hope to address the big picture regarding art so we can at least set some common ground and perhaps keep this in mind when considering art we don’t like (which I must admit I seldom do).
Fundamentally, art means what we decide for it to mean, and both the art and our regard for it are constantly shifting. Therefore, we could conduct our artistic expression knowing that, while it is incredibly dear to us, it is not the only one, not the only “right answer”.
There is no such thing.
It is a matter of serious play, and of the games and toys we are akin to at any given moment.
So, let us play consciously.