Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why Is The Study of Art Important?

My love Rachel is an artist of a particular sort where she is encouraged to pursue her art explicitly and even formally. She works to make her art a truer expression of herself, ever expanding her modes of expression in order to come to a closer understanding of herself and her world around her.

But what is the importance of this pursuit? Why would someone choose art as an intellectual life pursuit, rather than the other two fields of intellectual pursuit: philosophy and science?

All three of these areas are essential to any human's life. You cannot have a healthy pursuit of any of these without the other two. But are they really on equal ground? Our society certainly puts the highest value on science.

I will make the case for art. What is it? Art is the expression that is in harmony with God's creative purpose. The ideal of this expression is to use the full potential of the human mind and body to express the "naturalness" of humanity, in whatever way. We are not perfect, and we do not use our full potential, so we do not possess this ability to its utmost extent, nor can anyone fully attain it.

This is why one must work at artful expression their whole lives in order to gain a proficiency with it. This is also why it is a special thing when someone is recognized for their "artistic abilities". What is really being recognized there? It is the ability of someone to use their human potential of expression.

But what is the purpose of art? It is the same as all other academic pursuit(philosophy and science), when pursued intellectually. The purpose is to find truth, to fill ourselves with knowledge of the world. How does art do this? By expressing ourselves more fully, we uncover the state of the world in profound ways. Things that are unclear to people become clear. We can view how people from different cultures see the world, compared to our own. We can see the human body and mind do something it was not known to do before. By an artist's interaction with the natural world truths about the close connection between certain things in nature may be revealed where scientists and philosophers may have overlooked these things up until now. The beauty of it all reveals a knowledge that God meant for us to be able to reach this potential, even if we ourselves are not able to do what the artist does. Because of this we see God's purpose in creating us, the goodness He has in mind.

The painter, the comedian, the computer programmer, the martial artist, the musician...great people in all these pursuits have shown new horizons of human potential, and have revealed truths of the world that have spurred on the scientists of today.

Would scientists bother to study harmonic physics if it were not for the musicians first expressing the possibilities of creating beautiful sounds?

Would scientists have bothered to consider the possibility of a theory of human evolution without the painters and sculptors first expressing our close relation to other animals in art of most all cultures?

Of course, I don't know for sure, but it seems plausible that in these and many other instances, it is artists that first stumble upon truths about the world, and proceed to inspire philosophers and scientists to make a pursuit of it themselves, in their own ways.

We need artists everywhere in the world.
Artists make us less ignorant of our world.
Artists make the world more peaceful.


Anonymous said...

This is a worthy topic to explore. My personal take on art is that it is more than a category of vocation, but equally a way to live, requiring an openness to our existence. "Openness" being the pivotal distinction, it is a state of mind that allows one to see beyond established boundaries. Seen in this way, regardless of a person's vocation, anyone is an artist who engages in their chosen vocation as a process of self discovery, not self definition. In essence then, if we define ourselves only by our chosen vocation, (an artist, scientist, philospher, etc.) we confine our creative potential within those boundaries and shunt the opportunity for expanding our knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

We can compare art, science and philosophy in the context of vocation or intellectual pursuits, but that is a very small view of life. If art represents anything, it is essentially a possible method, a practice for how to see beyond our ignorance.

Andrew Fister 3rd said...

My main intent in writing this was precisely to define art as a counterpart to science and philosophy, and not as a view of life. This is not to say that the scientist and philosopher and artist making discoveries are not the same person. Each person should recognize when they are practicing in science, philosophy, or art, as these three practices are not isolated vocations but encompass the whole potential of the way humans can find truth. In fact we are usually doing all three at the same time. So there is no "etc." after "scientist, philosopher, artist" because this is an exhaustive set for my purposes.

To define someone in one of these three categories is simply an observation as to which of these activities is most prominent in their practice at a particular time. Definitions are useful to our lives in focusing our efforts of mind and body. We should be able to recognize them as artificially restrictive, of course, and always be able to slough them when they are not useful, but the usefulness of definitions in general should not be understated, as they are an underpinning of much of the progress of human society.

Anonymous said...

I agree, that for practical reasons we use definitions to relate in particular contexts and venues. My point is precisely that humans are not their vocations, or the definitions we use to know them. "I am a Psychologist" is not who I am, it is what I do. My wife is an artist, but neither of these are who she is, they are things, activities she is engaged in. So my point was also to bring attention to how our vocational definition, however useful, are sometimes used in a way that actually obscures our humanity. Most of us, in my professional experience, do not "recognize them as artificially restrictive". And this is a chronic cause for inequalities throughout history in all human societies.

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