by Mark Abraham
affair with art goes back tens of thousands of years and this unequivocally
shows its importance in every human’s life. Though humans, as individuals or at
times specific groups, the same arts will undoubtedly affect us all, but
essentially not everyone will be affected in exactly the same manner. However,
regardless of how any one person or group is affected, it is the ageless paradox
of why it is that we are essentially and undoubtedly affected at all that is the
key to understanding, truly, why art is to be cherished at all. This is an
unexplored catechism, as far as pin-pointing the existential phenomenon, and
reducing the engulfing complexities into a concept that is finally within our
grasp. As it presents itself in so many different categories such as music,
paintings, sculptures, novels, films, dancing, poetry, and continuing seemingly
to no end, art becomes ubiquitous. This is as true today as it has always been,
despite the endless human interest in this subject however, it is surrounded
with a seemingly insurmountable mystery. It is mysterious because we have not
yet been able to comprehensively and definitively describe human interest in
this phenomenon, despite the immense pleasure we exact from it, though in some
cases a great discomfort. That is to say, that we either enjoy or repel art
without being able to identify exactly what it is we are really identifying.
Thus, we enjoy that which we do not entirely understand or can rationally
explain. There are those who claim that we have not even been able to devise a
comprehensive definition for art that is acceptable to all, which is a topic I
will surely explore in more detail herein.
I have determined a good place to start understanding the concept of what art is, and why we so cherish it, or for that matter reject it, would be to find out how this seemingly simple word is defined in dictionaries; Webster’s New World Dictionary defines art as: (1) the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance; (2) the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria, works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings; (3) a field, genre, or category of art: dance is an art; (4) any field using the skills or techniques of art; (5) skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation; (6) a branch of learning or university study, especially one of the fine arts or the humanities, as music, philosophy, or literature; (7) skilled workmanship, execution, or agency, as distinguished from nature.
Some of the flaws in this definition are self-evident. For example, the words such as ‘aesthetic’ and ‘beautiful’ are used to define art, yet these words themselves are no more comprehensive than is the term, “art.” From another perspective, it introduces the different categories of arts to describe arts. This can hardly depict a meaningful understanding of arts singularly as a phenomenon. To take another piece of this definition, for instance, is it claims the skill in conducting any human activity as a definition for arts. This would encompass everything humans do, as each field requires its own pertinent set of skills that can range from laying bricks or paving the road to composing a symphony.
Possibly it is for the reason that the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy published by Cambridge University Press holds, that no definition devised for art in the West is acceptable to all cultures. That is to say, despite the fact that humans have worshiped arts from the dawn of time, we are yet to define it. This is a clear indication of the fact that we do not properly understand this object of intense universal human love.
When you casually ask people about their understanding of the word “art,” there is no shortage of vaguely comprehensive ideas about the subject. Most people hastily utter a theory, and often for the first time. This hasty attempt to define this seemingly simple, but exceedingly (extraordinarily) difficult subject, is an indication of the fact that most people have not even paused to ponder the complex nature of this subject. A common understanding of arts is vague at best. However, when you raise a few legitimate questions, and one feels that they need to refine their definition, purging the flaws and attempting to make it sound and meaningful, they start to recognize the complexities of this phenomenon and the difficulties of explaining it. It then becomes clear that this proposed hypothesis demands to be explored at a philosophical level for an understanding of it as an artist or as a connoisseur.
The significant place arts occupy in human life warrants an earnest attempt to study this subject in depth to the extent possible. When you do that it reveals that the reason for this long lasting confusion on what art is and why we so enjoy it stems from the fact that perhaps the way we have perceived arts all along has been inadequate. This perspective urges us to have a totally different and new way of looking at this age-old phenomenon. This in turn, reveals obvious facts about arts that have escaped attention and we get a radical departure from the conventional way of perceiving arts.
Without this understanding, relevant and important questions will continue to go unanswered. For example, when you try to explain why this superbly intelligent and purposeful being, humans, so enjoy this otherwise frivolous and strange act of lifting one foot to put it down to lift the other in the name of dancing, you get to notice that the question is totally inexplicable from the conventional way of observing arts.
Likewise, when you explore what it is about making strange noises in the name of singing so intoxicates the same utterly intelligent and purposeful beings, humans, the difficulties to explain arts, and humans fascination with it, becomes exceedingly difficult, if not totally impossible. Of course, this is not limited to these two categories of arts, but it pertains to each and every realm of art, as we shall see. Thus, not being able to answer these many more important questions that will be presented in due time, is indicative of the fact that we humans have been cherishing art for so long without comprehensively grasping what it is that they find so attractive. Indeed, this is the tip of the iceberg in the mystery of art as we shall progressively detect through this philosophy.
There is a practical reason for this persisting mystery on arts and other deep human aspiration. For a clear understanding of any of such subjects, such as what art is and why humans so enjoy it, human spirituality, the unique human sexuality that is very different from all the rest of the beings and so on, we need to explore them at their very core. The roots of all such human interests and the resulting behavior are manufactured deep in the human mind, so to speak, and that is where they need to be studied and understood. This has hardly been done, not in arts or any other universal human pursuits. So long as this fails to be explored, we will never succeed in understanding why certain things so strongly appeal to us. Just the same way we will also fail to understand why certain other things repel most humans. I argue that this is the approach that is not fully employed, and thus we have many strong desires without being able to identify the source of such interest, articulate or justify why we hold certain things so dear. This renders both the subjects of our interest a mystery, on one hand, and humans, being infatuated with that which we cannot explain, as another mystery on the other.
To use an example, we observe humans’ endless fascination in religion without being able to explain it, despite the diligent efforts by those who subscribe to it to justify their strong beliefs. This renders both this facet of humanity and religion as phenomenal mysteries yet to be resolved after millennia. Those who study this subject will admit how earnestly so many great scholars are trying to crack this riddle practically devoid of success. That largely holds true for arts and a few other such subjects as well. Interestingly, the subjects are widely differently and totally unrelated, but the lack of noticeable progress results from the same flaw, our inability to find the source and to understand them at their very roots that will progressively become more lucid.
Stating the obvious, the roots of all such human interests originate in the mind that is the essence of the brain. So long as we fail to sink deep into the human mind to observe what mental mechanism induces these varying universal human interests, forever multifarious human mysteries will continue to stare us in the face. Thus, we will cherish arts without a complete comprehensive perception. We will continue to worship without being able to rationally explain the practice and that will awe many who cannot understand or relate to it. Hence, we have been enjoying art for tens of thousands of years without accurately knowing what in it we enjoy or why. Changing the methods and observing them from a totally different perspective hugely simplifies the subjects and we get to understand them more objectively and accurately.
This philosophy, The Interaction between Instinct and Intellect and its Impact on Human Behavior, shortened as Meet Your Mind, enables us to sink deep into the human mind to observe the organic roots of such human interests. For the first time this makes it possible for us to disassemble the human mind into its individual components and to identify what in the mind longs for what and why and we get an accurate inventory of our mental elements. Hence, we get to understand which of these forces long for what and why certain behaviors are a result. It is this process that we identify the organic forces that engender the different human inclinations, one of which is art, and we explore it in its deepest sense. When we attempt to explore, not in the physical world of arts, but in the metaphysical realm of the human mind we truly demystify arts. This is what is meant by a huge departure from the conventional ways observing and understanding arts. However, to be able to do that requires a relatively massive shift of paradigm.
To understand the intensity of these forces that compel humans towards arts, we need to observe how profoundly we have been cherishing arts initially. A brief glance at the rich history of human fascination with arts in all categories may help us better appreciate the overall value of arts in human life to justify the efforts. Aristotle wrote the very first book on art, Poetics, some two thousand four hundred years ago. Since then, philosophers and great artists alike have been debating what art is and how it relates to beauty. Yet not only the results have been inconclusive, but also, a demonstrable and profound confusion has been surrounding this subject from the start that still largely persists. While this is the oldest book on art, human interest dates much farther back as our distanced ancestors created varying artworks. This simultaneously reveals the intensity of human interest on the subject on one hand and the depth of the complexity of art as the inconclusive debates on the subject still persist on the other.
For example, cave dwellers some twenty thousand years ago painted pictures on the walls of caves in Spain and Southern France. Some of these pictures are claimed to date back even thirty-two thousand years as the pictures below show. Music, another realm of art, is believed to date back much farther. The oldest musical instrument is a flute made of bone that was found in Transylvania. Some estimate it to be thirty-five thousand years old, and others estimate it to be fifty thousand years old. Yet others claim it to date back some eighty-two thousand years ago. Thus, it illustrates that humans have been dealing with art globally for a very long time indeed, regardless which estimation is correct. And their interest has progressively intensified as reflected in the quality and the quality of arts people have been creating.
This ever-present human interest in all arts, and in this case in music, has resulted in the relentless struggle for artistic sophistication. At one time, they played music through flutes made of bone. Now they have a large variety of very advanced musical instruments with beautiful sound qualities such as piano, violin, clarinet and endless others. They cleverly mix and match many of these musical instruments to play hugely complex musical pieces, symphonies, in beautifully designed music halls. Indeed, it has been a long journey. Studying the encyclopedia of musical instruments reveals the vastly diverse and beautiful musical instruments invented in different parts of the world in different historical periods beginning with this bone flute up to the present. One gets a sense of how intensely humans love music and what huge progress has been made as a result of it. While at one time they plaid a crude flute, today they play great symphonies in beautiful music halls for huge audiences the world over, and cave paintings are replaced by the enigmatic painting, such as Mona Lisa, that decorate the walls of great many museums. It is equally intriguing to find out that despite this endless human interest in all art forms, we still fail to properly understand that which all humans have been relishing for so long.
The phenomenon of art is indeed inherently complex and it becomes even more so when the techniques employed to study and understand it are less than inadequate, as I argue to be the case here. Failing to understand art at its roots, in the mind, among other things, also deprives us of the ability to realize that the different categories of arts that register with different mental faculties. There also exists a huge inequity in the sensitivity of these mental elements. As a result of that the greatest majority of people derive a great deal more pleasure and satisfaction from certain arts, such as music, compared to some of the other art forms. Failing to understand art and humans’ interest in it at its mental roots renders us permanently incapable of observing or explaining this great subtlety that this philosophy reveals. To the best of my knowledge, this has not even been raised as a question, much less being explained. Simply, when we study art in the material world through observing endless physical art objects instead of studying it in the realm of metaphysics and in human mind, it becomes an inaccessible phenomenon as has been the case so far. This will become progressively more apparent.
As it was alluded to before, many say we enjoy arts for the beauty they contain. But then, we have yet to reach a consensus on what beauty actually is. Can we really articulate it comprehensively and point out its organic roots as to what we collectively accept as being beautiful? Understanding and defining beauty is indeed no less complex than it is the case with arts. Furthermore, what one perceives as being beautiful, another cannot even endure. This is another complex subject worthy of philosophical examination. And if we are incapable of explaining it, can we at least pinpoint why that is apparently so? If we love arts for the beauty in it, then our understanding of it becomes contingent on our understanding of what beauty is and we can never understand one without the other. Because we have no clear understanding of either, therefore, we have been truly relishing for tens of thousands of years that which we barely understand. A few empirical examples might help bring it into focus.
Humans are most distinguished from all the rest of the beings for the profound intellect and reasoning ability our species undoubtedly possesses. Due to the fact man is intelligent and purposeful, first it would only be rational to expect our interests in everything should stand to the measure of reasoning and logic and second, we should be able to explain this and other human interest through reasoning and intellect. However, weak as though it might be, there must be a presence of logic in all our pursuits that of course would include our love of arts and sports.
Hence, it is only natural that we should be able to identify the logic in our liking of different things, to be able to explain our longing through it, and it should ultimately lead us to the right conclusion. If this fails us, then something must be wrong with our approach and we ought to examine not the object of our study, but our ways of studying it. However, when we resort to this seemingly rational method to describe humans’ love of arts, we quickly reach an inconclusive standstill. Virtually in all categories of arts, such as poetry, dancing, music, singing, painting, and sculpture, it becomes exceedingly difficult to logically justify this immense human interest in any and all of them. While each of these will be covered in more details shortly, a brief touching on some of such arts as examples may depict a clear picture on why one would suggest such a sweeping claim at all, as is the case here.
© Copyrights 2012-13 Mark Abraham