black_son_of_gray wrote: ↑
Fri Jun 16, 2023 5:11 pm
I have very strong, book-length opinions on this. I'll try to keep it brief.
I think art is so important that the discussion of whether it is "useful" is essentially nonsense - tantamount to asking whether "being a human" is useful.
Here's how I go about thinking what art is: it is a product, a process, a quality. It is ancient and integral to being a human, maybe nature itself. Sounds like I'm overselling it. Read on.
I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to think of art as a process rather than merely a product. I'll give an example, and then restate it conceptually.
You're painting a portrait. What is the process? (Every painter has differences, but just as an example...) You prep a surface for paint. You prep the model (pose, lighting, etc.). You sketch the model's features/contours. You examine the scene, mix up some paints, and block out the main colors over your drawing. You mix in complementaries or whites to get shadow and highlight values, you add those on top. You look at what doesn't look quite right. You make adjustments. You add the fine details until you determine that adding any more paint won't add to the painting. You wait for it to dry, maybe varnish it, hang it up on the wall. Done.
That's what you are physically, technically doing. But what are you really doing? At each step in the process of painting a portrait, you are making a manipulation in the world (e.g. drawing a line, mixing a color) and then testing it against some criteria. Over and over again, that is what you are doing. That is the process of art.
You know what else is a process? Evolution is a process. That's where living organisms, through the messiness of imperfect reproduction, bring new manipulations (oops, offspring...) into the world, and the world is only too happy to test them against the harsh realities of life.
You know what else is a process? Science is a process. That's where you come up with an explanation, make a few manipulations (oops, experiments...) in the world, and then observe how well those manipulations line up with your explanation.
My argument here is that there is a type of process that shows up over an over again...something I would call iterative refinement. A constant testing and retesting of something against a criteria.
Art is such a process.
With evolution the criteria is "fitness"; with science the criteria is "invalidation of the hypothesis"; with art the criteria is...what? I would argue that with art, the criteria is something like: "Am I communicating my experience?" That could be emotions, that could be where your attention is, and so on. @jacob's reply makes good points.
For our portrait painter, maybe they are painting their friend - a friend with the kindest eyes, a friend that always gives the painter a feeling of cozy warmth. A safe place. And that's what they are feeling as they paint the portrait. So now how is the image framed on the canvas? How is the friend lit? What kind of color palette fits that feeling? What even is that feeling? How could the painter draw a viewer's gaze to the eyes, so they could see that same quality in the friend? These are the questions. These are the criteria by which the painter tests and retests her painting. (Or maybe it's a photographer trying to capture exactly what the mood was like at the wedding party, or maybe it's a ....)
It's of course worth pointing out how little society apparently thinks about art, even though art is as old as humans and is literally everywhere. To the extent that it's ever addressed in US schools (probably also true in other WEIRD countries?) it's rarely treated in a serious way beyond elementary school ages*. To study it in high school or college makes you the butt of derisive jokes from the most artistically stunted STEM dullards.
Here's part of why the art process matters so much: because it makes you take long, difficult looks into your "criteria". If you are to make a piece of art dealing with grief, it makes you examine deep in your bones what a particular grief means to you, then reach out with your basket of techniques and communicate that feeling to another human being. It helps you work through out all the nuances for all the emotions or events that happen in your life - by the way, not all of which are bad! (the comedian Demitri Martin has a book of humorous sketches called "If It's Not Funny It's Art", pointing out how we idiotically only think of art as "serious") Art as process has a lot in common with introspection, although one could argue that because it has a criteria and is iterative, it is more likely to be productive than aimless introspection.
Here's part of why the art process matters so much: it allows you to figure out what has meaning and what matters to you - to learn that about yourself. Which is huge, of course, for just y'know living a good life
. But that knowledge then forms the basis for how you construct your own systems, your web of goals. You know, ERE Wheaton Level 7 stuff. It's how you can approach the question of "What's it all for
Here's part of why the art process matters so much: because reasoning/logic is only a small part of what your brain can do. Doing visual arts makes you look at the world in very different ways, looking at contours, light/shadow, colors. It's not intuitive to many. It forces different states, attending to aspects of an object that aren't normally attended to. Same with music. Same with writing. You are forced into outside-the-box territory for a brief period of time, but the benefits to your brain extend far beyond that. Like physical exercise to the body, art to the brain**. And you do know that your ERE systems require creativity to create, right? And you do know that those ERE systems will need to creatively adapt and evolve over time, right? (They are processes, not products)
Art is not lesser than STEM, even though it is treated that way. Art is not lesser than farming, or bricklaying, or [your pick of manual trade]. They are cousins. They have the same type of process at their core, even if different criteria. They commingle. Anything that has a style has art embedded in it, suffused through it. That art enriches. It's not about "useful", it is intrinsic.
*If any of what I've written in this post is eye-opening or seems newly insightful to you, maybe consider the depth of your own art-related education. I know very little about art, but I know it has way more to offer than what I was exposed to during my education. I'm currently trying to make amends/emends to that deficit.
**And just like exercise, what
you are doing matters. Are you just casually strolling? Are you just looking at pleasant pictures? Ok. But challenging
yourself, at least somewhat regularly, will have greater impact.