Showing posts with label what is art for?. Show all posts
Showing posts with label what is art for?. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

what is art for? homo aestheticus by ellen dissanayake

as an illustration to the previous post, let me quote from the wikipedia lemma on ellen dissanayake:

In Homo Aestheticus (University of Washington Press, 1995), Ellen Dissanayake argues that art was central to the emergence, adaptation and survival of the human species, that aesthetic ability is innate in every human being, and that art is a need as fundamental to our species as food, warmth or shelter.

What art “makes special”
This aesthetic ability, she says, enabled us to ‘bracket off’ the things and activities that were important to our survival, separate them from the mundane, and make them special. We took the objects and practices involved in marriage, birth, death, food production, war and peacemaking and enhanced them to make them more attractive and pleasurable, more intriguing and more memorable. We invented dance, poetry, charms, spells, masks, dress and a multitude of other artifacts to make these associated activities, whether hauling nets or pounding grain, more sensual and enjoyable, to promote cooperation, harmony and unity among group members, and to also enable us to cope with life’s less expected or explicable events.

Methods of “making special” derived from our evolutionary inheritance
Using her own lived, anthropological experience and a wide knowledge of contemporary literature on the subject, she provides many examples of how this “making special” is done. She argues that in making things special we drew on those aspects of the world that evolution had led us to find attractive and to prize: visual signs of health, youth and vitality such as smoothness, glossiness, warm colors, cleanness and lack of blemishes; vigor, precision, agility, endurance and grace of movement; in sounds - sonority, vividness, rhythmicity, resonance, power; in the spoken word repetition of syllables, verses and key words, the use of antiphony, alliteration, assonance and rhyme. She adds to these pattern, contrast, balance, roundness, length, geometric shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, diagonals, horizontals and verticals) - and more complex forms arising from variation on a theme, or to put it the other way round, the absorbing of asymmetry and difference within a wider, encompassing pattern - the taming of the unruly wild. As such, she argues that art springs from the same sources and interacts with the same physiology as everyday life, but because it is so crafted, more intensely.

Art as a normal and necessary part of human life
In Homo Aestheticus, Dissanayake argues that Art is not an ornamental and dispensable luxury, but intrinsic to our species. And once we recognize this truth, she says “each one of us should feel permission and justification for taking the trouble to live our life with care and thought for its quality rather than being helplessly caught up in the reductive and alienating pragmatic imperatives of consumer and efficiency-oriented and “entertain-me” society.”
“Art is a normal and necessary behavior of human beings and like other common and universal occupations such as talking, working, exercising, playing, socializing, learning, loving, and caring, should be recognized, encouraged and developed in everyone. Via art, experience is heightened, elevated, made more memorable and significant”

Included in the book are more than 16 pages of references covering the emergent fields of Bioaesthetics, Neuroaesthetics and Psychobiology.

what is art for? is the title of another book by ellen dissanayake (this links to her website):

what is art for?, ellen dissanayake

and you will note the nice 'coincidence' that the author uses the same painting by gauguin as the one that started me on this whole thread...;-)

landscape art 3: what is art for (again)?

as i understand visual art, it is as important to us as music, and dance.

i wrote some posts earlier about dance, dance of life, tree of life...partly because of gauguin's monumental painting, partly because i was inspired by pina bausch. but mostly because i am arriving at the conclusion that many, if not most noteworthy artists in any arts discipline have been tasked with doing what we should all be doing.

so i think we should all be living more music, living more dance, living more poetry and stories and plays and movies, and living more visual art as well...if you get my drift.

sadly however, many of us live in a society where these things are only limitedly tolerated, for whatever reasons. as human beings, we are not even close to realizing our human potential on a global scale, and we are often already bogged down by our immediate social peers.

whereas, to me it seems that life is an inscrutable mystery, in which we play a minor and incomprehensible part with lots of suffering and misery thrown in. in such a setting, any form of art ideally helps us to live our lives more joyfully, more peacefully, more in tune with life and less to the tune of greed, social oppression, military oppression, religious oppression, any oppression.

for many of us, music is an outlet for our emotions vis-a-vis what we encounter in daily life. in my own dutch society, music seems much more accepted in that way than visual art (although, one should count movies in here). yet visual art has so much to offer in the same sense as well. but to appreciate these possibilities would seem to require more exposure to and emphasis on the importance of visual imagery/art in our education system than is the current practice.

$$$$$$$ (money, that's what everybody seems concerned about)

anyway, landscape art is in many ways a counterweight to 'quick bucks'. it takes a long time for a natural landscape to form. when walking in such a landscape, i believe we connect to slow forces of nature, and even the benign-to-humans atmosphere of many trees and plants. (i know there are also less benign landscapes...but these also have a certain time-slowing impact on us).

how to represent in a painting or drawing or drainting or ..., the influence on our feeling and thinking that landscapes have? even more radical, landscapes often set me thinking about the nature of Nature, the nature of of spatiality, the forces of life & death, the nature of beauty,...

i feel quite some understanding for the aboriginal way of looking at the land: also through dreams and ancestral stories from time immemorial. no wonder that i am intrigued by some forms of aboriginal landscape art. why is it that so-called primitive societies seem to have such a much more evolved concept of what life is really about? also see dreamtime on wikipedia.

unknown land, frank waaldijk, 2010
unknown land (own work, 54 x 60 cm, 2010, click on the image for an enlargement)

Monday, January 17, 2011

what is art for? 4 (art in our merchant society)

but let's forget about the economic importance of art and art education. this importance should be evident to anyone who ... has had enough education to understand the importance of education...although this maybe isn't dependent on how much education one gets. many of our current political `leaders' have had quite a lot of education...but of what type, one cannot fail to wonder.

that is where art comes in, and art education as well.

ultimately, in my not so humble opinion (imnsho), the question `what is art for?' revolves around the same sun as the question: `what gives our existence meaning?'. personally i do not believe that money, power, sex, drugs [let's say the four modern horsemen of the apocalypse...] come close to this sun, although our current merchant society would really have us believe that these four horsemen are the beginning and the end of all our longings, and that the sun shines out of their arse...

albrecht dürer, the four horsemen of the apocalypse
albrecht dürer, the four horsemen of the apocalypse (click on the image for an enlargement)

i mean, look at italy, where a complete `civilized' country is being dominated by the arch-caricature of money power sex drugs: berlusconi. after all the scandals and corruptions, has italy managed to regain the upper hand? no. do the other countries of the european union even try to stop the incredible corruption in italy from spreading throughout the union? i for one fail to notice any real progress in this matter.

and all of this is because we as a society -at EVERY junction- stress the importance of money. the importance of power. the importance of sex, and drugs as well. because the main societal credo seems to be: "as long as I feel happy, as long as I am in control of things around me, as long as I am rich and powerful, who cares about the rest?".

since money is the generic means to obtain all of the above four horsemen, our merchant society drools over money like one wouldn't believe.

what then is one of the main ways to illustrate that money isn't everything? if we need to get across the message that there are other values in this world which need protection from the money-scheming white-collar criminals? i would say that art is in a unique position for this. (this includes all forms of art, not just the visual arts).

what is art for? 3 (art in our merchant society)

[to continue our discussion: art and art education is important for economic development]

the first reason why art and art education are economically important was given already by looking at the world of design, and the importance of colour, form, perception for this discipline.

a second reason can be found on a more profound level. it turns out that much of our thinking is `visual'. we `see' things, see? so when we say we understand something, it often means we have a visual representation of this something which makes sense to us. also, new ideas, creative ideas, often come in visual form. but that means that we can hardly train enough our capacity for visualization and for visual communication.

for example, read this interesting article on colour by ibm researchers rogowitz and treinish: Why Should Engineers and Scientists Be Worried About Color?. they argue that specific colour representation of research data is critical for its understanding, and that colour theory should be applied when presenting data.

this is just a small portion of the ways in which we think and communicate visually. clearly, for industrial and technological innovation, visualization is of the essence. good education in visualization therefore is a vital pillar to economic development, imnsho. this also covers training in simply `seeing', `looking'.

from neurophysiological brain studies, it becomes clear that our brain has several large visual `modules', large parts of which are activated when we try to understand things.

so we come back to wittgenstein: wir machen uns bilder der welt
(we make ourselves images of the world), by which wittgenstein means that this is our way of thinking about the world and being able to grasp parts of this world.

then thirdly, there is the direct economic aspect of art: art appreciation in all its forms has a direct economic component. of course this is what most of the criticism and `looking down' on artists is about, in our merchant society, because many artists cannot really make a living out of their art.

but on who does that reflect poorly, really?

given the utmost importance of visualization, colour, creativity for human development, and given the often back-breaking effort put in by visual artists to achieve profound levels in their artistry, on who does it reflect poorly that these artists often struggle to get by?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

what is art for? 2 (art in our merchant society)

[continued from previous post]

so if we adopt the utilitarian viewpoint, then clearly art is for the benefit of mankind.

in my not so humble opinion (imnsho): if the dutch political party pvv wants to state that `art is a leftist hobby', they really show to understand so little of what the world needs that they should be disqualified by voters as quickly as possible.

but -and now i'm coming back to education and johannes itten- in the netherlands we have a long tradition of considering education in the arts to be unimportant. this results in a merchant mentality in large parts of society, a mentality which is actually hampering the netherlands in its economic development - try explaining that to someone who cannot think beyond quick profit.

first of all: design is a key element of industrial commerce, so that design in all its aspects is of major importance in developing one's economy. however, the key aspects of design are largely concomitant with the key elements of the visual arts...and nobody, nobody comes close to what visual artists have developed in this respect over the centuries. so take another look at `kunst und farbe' by johannes itten:

kunst der farbe, johannes itten
johannes itten, kunst der farbe (art of colour)

in this book many insights about colour are developed and explained in a very inspiring manner. one could easily call this book a scientific text on the `feel and use' of colour. this also illustrates that the words `art' and `science' are in a way on the same level...since art is also the science of esthetics - as contrasted to esthetics as a branch of philosophy (you should really read this link, if this topic `what is art for?' interests you).

so instead of teaching `dry' economy for three hours a week, four years of secondary school, why not add a module `economic impact of colour'...? that would certainly straighten some not-so-leftist strange ideas about the importance of art...and hopefully also about the importance of art education.

(i simply repeat johannes itten's work from the previous post, since it is about education:)

johannes itten
johannes itten "Education is revelation that affects the individual."--Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, The Education of the Human Race, 1780. From the series Great Ideas of Western Man. (1966, click on the image for an enlargement)

[to be continued]

what is art for? (art in our merchant society)

you probably don't remember me posing that question around new year's day...
and you certainly won't expect me to answer it i hope ;-) !!

but alright, perhaps it is interesting to elaborate a little on this question `what is art for?'. the question smacks a little of utilitarianism (excerpt from wikipedia below:)
Utilitarianism (also: utilism) is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility or minimizing negative utility (utility can be defined as pleasure, preference satisfaction, knowledge or other things) as summed among all sentient beings. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome. The most influential contributors to this theory are considered to be Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as "the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle".[1] Utility, the good to be maximized, has been defined by various thinkers as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain), although preference utilitarians define it as the satisfaction of preferences. It may be described as a life stance, with happiness or pleasure being of ultimate importance.

Utilitarianism can be characterised as a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics. It can be contrasted with deontological ethics (which do not regard the consequences of an act as a determinant of its moral worth) and virtue ethics (which focuses on character), as well as with other varieties of consequentialism.

In general usage, the term utilitarian refers to a somewhat narrow economic or pragmatic viewpoint. Philosophical utilitarianism, however, is a much broader view that encompasses all aspects of people's life.

so you see, with one little question we are already well into the minefield.

few people challenge the value of michelangelo, rembrandt, van gogh, picasso,...for society. still, recently the pvv (dutch political party) declared by word of spokesman martin bosma: `art is a leftist hobby'.


in the course `world and image' that i teach at the unit academy in nijmegen, we recently discussed the societal importance of colour...not even art, just colour. there is a lot of marketing research going into colour, because -obviously!- we are very sensitive to colour when it comes to buying the things we buy. so i quoted some studies on the economic importance of `knowing about colour'.

and i showed the students the absolutely marvelous book `art of colour' by johannes itten:

kunst der farbe, johannes itten
johannes itten, kunst der farbe (art of colour)

itten was a marvelous teacher, i think, and i also consider this book to be one of the most inspiring books i ever came across. (will continue this in a later post).

one of his art works:

johannes itten
johannes itten "Education is revelation that affects the individual."--Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, The Education of the Human Race, 1780. From the series Great Ideas of Western Man. (1966, click on the image for an enlargement)

[to be continued]