By dmitrizzleHeader image credit: Chi
What is the role of art in our lives? Is art limited to museums, orchestras and theatres? Is it important? To answer these questions better, we need to start with an age-old question: What is art?
The debate prevails. Some say that we can call art only the things that are approved to be so by an authority. Others, bring forward a point that art is a product of a relationship between the creator and the audience. And that it has a lot to do with the intent of the producer. Let's agree then (for the purpose of this article) that art is a human-made object that is designed to evoke new emotions. If that doesn't work for you - comment below and we'll discuss. Otherwise, let's tackle the next big question.
Spectrum of Usability: A Mind Experiment
Understanding what is the use of art is easier if we consider all of the infinitely numerous cases of its application as a hypothetical spectrum. Imagine a long list of various cases and examples with two extremes on each side. On the leftmost side of the list is pure entertainment: easy to consume, fun and almost mindless. Our guilty pleasure, sort of speak. On the rightmost side is "high" art, a form that might be challenging to appreciate and understand. It is educational, stimulating and provocative.
Entertainment, as with everything on the left-hand side of our hypothetical spectrum, is there to make us feel better after a long day of work. We consume it to have a good time or as an addition to our everyday activities. Without it life would be dull; our breaks from the daily labour would consist of staring at the wall or watching the grass grow. That is why we consume movies, music, books and games.
Some would argue that simplistic forms of entertainment should not even be considered as art. Watching purely sensory action movies with no story line is a different experience from visiting a national art gallery. But those same movies (if they are well-made) still make us feel like we are somewhere else, living a different life. A good shooter will transform moviegoer's mind and even affect him or her physiologically, thus conforming to the above-stated definition of art as an interaction between the creator and their audience (by changing moods and, consequently, box office numbers).
On the rightmost side of our spectrum, "high" art is meant to make us think rather than just see. To understand that kind of expression our minds are required to create very personal thoughts and visualisations. The best part is that it comes with an opportunity to build a unique story of our own. Consequently, we are looking within our minds for devices to produce that very image from the "scaffolding" provided for us by the creator. At the same time, we are getting a deeper insight into the artist's heart and mind since there is often fewer constraints to conform to popular expectations.
We may still argue over how much value we should put on entertainment versus "high" art. To some, having just one work of Picasso destroyed would seem like a massive loss while others might fall into depression if their favourite Britney Spears single would disappear. In either case, I suggest not to pass quick judgements as the importance of either creation is independent of where it falls on our "spectrum". Art is a personal relationship between an audience and the creator. The strength and the value of that bond is up to those who are involved.
Mind Tricks that Changed the History
A friend of mine once taught me a trick to find keys whenever I misplaced them. He said: "just stop looking". It worked. It helped me because once I took my mind off whatever the task was I was able to come back with a fresh perspective. Art can do the same: it can free our minds from the rigid, logical thought process and give an opportunity to take a different approach. But there is more to art than just a distraction from functional tasks.
Perhaps the least inspiring or creative human activity, war, is dependent on art. Morale is an incredibly valuable commodity. It could sway the odds of a battle outcome into the realms of impossible. The lives of thousands could be saved or taken away by inspiring the troops to push beyond all limits through storytelling, imagery, music and art. Propaganda exemplifying victories through superior effort and vilifying carelessness or misbehaviour has been a weapon, responsible for great and terrible outcomes of the past and yet to be.
Morale and inspiration are not just for the front lines of a battle. Perhaps the most vivid example is the Renaissance Era in Europe. A period of over three hundred years that has transformed the direction of our entire human race from the Dark to Modern ages. While remembered for the scientific innovation, it is the art, sculpture, architecture and cultural transformation that dominated the news of yesteryear and headlines in our textbooks. That was the time when we learned to dream up our future, imagine it and be more creative with our solutions than ever.
The continuous influence of art is evident in education itself as the difference between the dryest research paper and an easily absorbed material. It is the measure of our evolution as the historians are setting approximate dates of discovery based on the complexity of design and intricacy of decorations. And of course, the commerce is perhaps the most prominent benefactor of the human creativity, as the main reason for our numerous impulse purchases is the attractiveness of a service or product. And to make it so, companies hire entire art departments of students and seasoned professionals.
And so to influence an individual or a whole nation (or just for the sake of being able to appreciate life itself) art alters our moods, thoughts, even our body's internal processes. It is innate, but only to humans. Its inseparability from humans is evident as we spend fortunes on our travels to experience exotic fashion, culture and architecture and endlessly occupying our time by movies, music and books.
Art is here to control, inspire, delight and enhance our lives. And it is not going away, no matter how horrible of a dystopian future we might imagine for ourselves.This article is an edited version of what was originally posted on September 17, 2014.