Meandering Thoughts on Art

The Spirit and Body: What is the heart of art? Art is not all Spirit nor all Body; at its core, what is art?

I wrote the above question two days ago, and reflecting (reversing) the humor of Deep Thought’s proclamation of forty-two, I found that the culmination of many years’ worth of musings had only amounted to one half of what I desired: That is, I felt I had sufficiently stated the question on my mind but was still wanting the answer. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what art is. I would like to propose that art is humanity, that art is how humans express the world before them and the consequent change that expression makes upon the world.

Now, better minds than mine have struggled with this question, and I doubt I’ve really found an answer. The point being here to set down a probably wrong answer so that whatever truth I think I see can be excavated from my own unconscious muck.

Art seems to exist in a relationship between two things, what I might call spirit and body. A good explanation of what I mean might be exemplified in considering the written word: A sentence is made of words, but a sentence is not mere words. The words themselves are a means to express meaning. However, a sentence is not mere meaning. The problem is we cannot have meaning without some physical instantiation of the meaning. Therefore, I see art as possessing a spirit, something beyond our primary senses, and subsequently possessing a body, the instantiation of the aforesaid something into the physical world where then the something becomes subject to the primary senses.

Now, this relation appears to exist on multiple levels: There is the artifact as related to my experience of the artifact; Within the artifact there exists both form and substance; And within my experience of the artifact, there exists a relationship between the literal reality of what my five senses reveal to me and a sort of imagination/interpretation of said reality.

Taking each in point:

  • To experience art requires more than to merely notice the literal reality of some object. Art requires some meaning, yet that meaning cannot exist outside of some literal reality. The fact of a clock is not art; yet the experience of finitude, of time, is meaningful. If an artist can make me look at a clock and thereby express something beyond the mere fact of a clock, he has communicated meaning. Thus meaning is communicated by literal reality, and furthermore, meaning cannot be communicated without literal reality. The meeting of the two, reality and imagination, produces art. So is the experience of art.
  • Then to consider the artifact, the instantiation of something into the world. Here we find that anything physical can be conceptualized as a combination of form and matter, of an ideal and a material substance. Sculpture seems the primary example of this: There is some conceptualization which then is instantiated into a physical form.
  • And finally, art is something instantiated within the world, an artifact, and the experience of said artifact.

Subsequent upon considering this, I tried to picture the relationship of these levels and produced a chart:


So why, as I said earlier, do I think art is humanity? Art seems to exist in the relationship between an idea and an expression of that idea. The ideas are created or discovered by humans so as to interact with the world. This interaction, however, works on two levels: On the one hand, the idea describes the world, and on the other, the idea creates the world. To the point, I see art used in two ways: People use art to allow others to share in some experience, and that shared experience is meant to change the person experiencing the art. Art is humanity, it is the way in which one human touches another on the deepest level.

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