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Art and Ideals

It’s a long-standing question: what is art for?

This is a question that has existed ever since the existence of art itself. Art was once simply an expression of craft, a signature that came out of mastery and skill. Art for art’s sake became possible once there was enough abundance in the world’s communities that people could simply appreciate something merely because it existed. You could, of course, argue that artistic things existed long before and the purpose was always simply appreciation. Since ancient days art existed to represent or to pay homage to some principle, generally a spiritual principle like a god or ancestor spirit, in order to gain favor back. Gods and spirits remain very vague and intangible, especially today, and both the definition and nature of art are still as vague. Yet somehow it makes sense to look at art in this light – ethereal and vaporous.

I myself have come to a personal conclusion on what I believe art is. Art is the result of any system or relationship between an intentional medium, some media, and a controlling force/inspiration. For instance, a dancer is the medium, the dancer’s body is the media, and the controlling force may be whatever the dancer decides at the time. Maybe it’s the flow of the music, his own rehearsed choreography, or his particular emotional feelings at the time. I believe what makes great art is the ability to consciously choose and change this controlling force, especially during the process of creating an artistic work. A great dancer can move to music, then fluidly place in a rigidly choreographed series of moves, and then suddenly express emotions that weren’t planned or even felt by the music all to convey exactly what the dancer intends. This goes for all of the types of mediums and media. The painter and the paint, the potter and the clay, the smith and steel, etc.

I still haven’t been able to address the question of what art is for, especially in our current culture. I’m definitely not sure if what art exists for is the same as it’s always been, but I would like to believe that whatever purposes it has carried are all closely related. I once felt adamant that art existed entirely to express reality. The ability for an artist to convey some aspect of reality accurately and objectively made them a better artist. And this way one could say the photograph was a upward evolution of art from the painting. I didn’t hold that belief for very long, as I started to feel that it diminished so many other pieces of art without clear validation. I then began to think maybe art exists to convey an ideal. For instance, art might exist to convey an emotional ideal, or an ideal person’s face, and so on. Soon this reasoning to began to fail me as well.

Finally, I came to the view I hold now as I write this. Art exists to express the ideals of that which is in reality. Art is a way to express some aspect or property of reality in a way that it could be made bigger and larger than life, made in a way that is greater than our senses would provide to us directly. You might even say in this way that art is the distillation of qualia. The particular attributes and a particular perspective through which they are expressed are controlled as a contract between the medium and that controlling force.

So, the fact notwithstanding, I haven’t put enough actual work in to qualify this as a definitive series of truths. If we suppose that these statements are the case, or we take them as fact, how may we more consciously use art today to express ideals within our reality? How might I use streaming video, or infographics, or emojis, to create an expression of aspects of reality that ought to get more attention?

This recent video from the school of life does an excellent job hand expressing ways that this can and has been done.

Is art a way to flatter reality? What are your opinions?