Thursday, September 28, 2006

What Is Art and It's Purpose. Redux.


I remember reading a book about poetry and the author, Stephen Dobyns, said the first reading that people did was on track animals for food. You've seen those western movies where there is some mysterious tracker, often a Native Canadian or American who can "read the trail", co-opted by THE MAN to trail our wily hero...

Well, reading novels and looking at art and watching movies are in the same arena. It's being given a narrative, or finding a narative. Humans have a compulsion to layer meaning. It's one of the things we do, it's how our brains work. Our brain will try to find faces and figures in chaos. Sometimes we see faces and forms in odd places, like tree bark, clouds, fabric patterns. It's a survival device. Our ability to see eyes and faces and various forms within chaos is reading for food,information...processed into knowledge...needed for survival.

A writer and a painter work by adding or taking away layers of meaning. A viewer hunts for meaning.

When we read a novel we are following clues the writer has carefully given us to help us enter an emotional state to bond with characters and to care about the plot. As readers we each have personal tastes that draw us to prefer mystery novels, adventure novels or non-fiction etc etc. Some readers are more genenral and like exploring all kinds of books and genres. Our visual currency depends on ones enviroment and upbringing and how open minded we each are or are not...or what we have been taught to believe within our social constructs.

When we look at art our mind wants to find a narrative too. Some of us may also prefer certain kinds of images over others, like choosing genres. I know many people who only like a few particular artists...the rest they think are bunk! But all art work has a narrative and a story. It reaches the viewer through colours, shapes, symbology or size or any of the millions of forms that art has taken. Sometimes shapes reference other shapes. The mind will try to find a face, a hand, a reference of any kind even commercial products, popular references, religious or political references: all offer layers of meaning.

What is art? Art is a narrative. It is a story in visual form. Art is a cousin to a novel, a movie or a classical Myth.

What does art mean? It means what you want it to mean, what you have been taught or not taught, and what you read and what the artist clues have been left for you.

Many rich people like art to represent or mean they are well..."rich and cultured". For corporations art may mean they gave to a charity, they want people to feel at rest with a colourful image and probably most importantly for a corporation art means that they are powerful and able to buy art, have so-called good taste and are at the helm of both financial and cultural economics.

For other viewers art may be a spiritual opportunity to look at things differently, the trendy idea of "outside the box". For many people art is a challenge and an adventure to open themselves up to see the world and our narratives in a new light or through the eyes of a fellow human.

Art began as a storytelling device for our survival and for communication. I believe that is still it's primary function and attraction.

Feelings of dischord are also valuable aspects to art viewing.

An audience is part of the symbology and narrative of art. Often we have merely forgotten that we have a rich source of symbols and mythology stored in our minds.

Can a movie inspire you to look at your life differently? Can a novel? Can a painting?

Why would it be important to look at our life differently?

Part of survival for humans is to see things in a new way, it is a kind of currency to be able to challenge tradition and authority. We need to be able to embrace traditions within our history as well as reject traditions if they are no longer valuable to our survival. Humans potential for rapid change and adaptation through thinking, reasoning and economic neccessity is our basic skill for surviving.

Our survival has depended on our reading and viewing and assessing skills. We are able to switch directions and social structures because of these skills. 10,000 years ago due to extreme weather producing droughts we had an emergency situation which forced us to turn to agriculture to survive. Farming was not a step of progress or revolution. It was a last minute response to an extinction level situation. From that economic change came all the flaws of our society now, lower health, prostitution, class systems, addiction, slavery and long work week hours causing stress and alienation.

Our long work week has also contributed to a drought on comprehension. People don't feel they have time to read literature or view art. We stagnantly believe we have this great progress and civilized life, yet we are not able to participate with the very cliche definition of civilized life: art.

What's the point of putting civilization and agriculture on a pedestal if we aren't even able to enjoy art or reading?

Most people are visual illiterates. Artists who crerate intellectually stale work represting the elitism of our society help perpetrate this cultural drought.

We need art that rejects the agricultural economy and we need viewers who are ready to learn to read visually again.

Who cares if art is dead. It needs rebirth anyways.

Can art be emotional, intellectual and spiritual pathways to thinking about what it is to be human?

What it means to be human is what it means in our art.


Red said...

I like the concept of gathering information from a novel/ work of art as a tool for our survival as a species, like trackers in the wild. And the idea of processing that information in order to shape and modify the way we look at ourselves and our behaviour. Intriguing.

Your posts are always wonderfully challenging, Candy. Thank you for taking the time to write all this down.

Anonymous said...

...but is nature art? One could argue that simply enjoying and looking at the complex (and simple) patterns of nature is as nuturing as art... and yet was not "created" by other humans for enlightment, enrichment, and enjoyment... it simply "happens". (Although the concept of how it happens and why is up for a debate I'm not prepared to get too far into at my office at 2:17pm!)

Also, have you ever seen a wonderful television program called "Connections" which connects inventions to inventions to culture to... well, it outlines a series of connections... and the plough was attributed to being the necessary item to allow the creation of artisans.

Without the plough, we wouldn't have a food surpluss that allowed us to take individuals out of society to become artisans... and Ergo: Progress us at all levels.

One could argue this... but it did stick in my head.

Fantastic post! THANK YOU!

Underground Baker said...

hee hee hee - go Candy!
Oh Matthew, I think if you were at a party with Candy, and she had tippled a few, she may very well argue this.

Candy Minx said...

Red, I think it is an idea that someone could parlay into a great book. I am also very confident this idea is concrete and provable within scientific standards. Glad you like it.

Matthew, hi and nice to meet you.

I was a HUGE fan of the tv show Connections, I keep meaning to track it down and buy it on dvd.

The plough may have made it possible for us to "take individuals out of society to become artisans" but I think this is a tragic occurance. I believe art is a completely natural biological process for humans. I believe it's segragation from mainstream popularity and society is a unique result of totalitarian agriculture and not a good thing. I think it's why we see such silly punchline art everywhere.

I prefer the kind of integration of artists, shamans, healers, food gatherers we see in more egalitarian societies. Even the Haida who had a complex hierarchy were not prone to the same kind of attitudes and segregation of class that we see today. In fact, one might be able to write an essay on how the Haiida hierarchy was more like the relationship of S&M or submissive dominant sexual relations:where at first glance it seems the dominant lover is the boss...when actually it is the submissive who holds all the power.

Ah, but here I go rambling and how unfortunate for me to go on a tangent about the wonderful society of Haida being like an S&M couple. I must have drank too much coffee today.

Back tot he plow....long before farming we have had many societies and economies that had lots of time and delegation for artists and artisans and story telling.

Candy Minx said...

oops...weelll Underground Baker, we must have posted at the same time I didn't read your post until after I responded to Matthew...okay, so it was the spirits that got me was the coffee this afternoon!

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