ART QUEST ESSAY FOUR – ART ASKS, SCIENCE ANSWERS
In the previous essay, I equated the creative energy as being very similar to the energy of a child at play. The kind of uninhibited, spontaneous play that exalts in the passion and freedom of physical, mental and spiritual freedom (lots of yelling and laughter probably doesn’t hurt). Please note, I have resisted the temptation to try to specifically define creativity (definition is an intellectual process at best), and have satisfied myself with merely illustrating creativity in action. I have a hunch it is similar to the Supreme Court Justice who once observed that it seemed to be very difficult to precisely define pornography, but most of us can pretty easily recognize it when we see it. Unfortunately, for the law, precise definitions are important, but as artists, hair splitting will get us nowhere.
I also mentioned that as adults, we attempt to learn to be artists, and we hope to learn the creative process. Although I taught art for well over thirty years, I would like to suggest that we would accomplish more if we worked at discovering instead of learning. The two words are quite different. Discovery is an active process, engaged in inquisitively, while learning is often the result of someone else presenting you with what they feel you should know.
We should be working upon discovering our former childlike joy at giving sound, form, and substance to our inner dreams, but unfortunately, if you visit the average adult arts class you won’t encounter much joyful, active, noisy creativity. Behaviorally, the class will probably appear more similar to a tenth grade civics class than to a second grade recess.
Something to consider. Throughout history, we can observe that there have been two elements present in virtually every culture that the archeologists have uncovered - visual art and spirituality (religion). Not only are they always present, they are almost always closely linked, and often the bond is unbreakable. Almost all art from the past has strong ties to a religious/spiritual/divine viewpoint, and conversely, much of what we know about historic religious belief comes from their art. In all likelihood, it was not just visual art but also dance, song and storytelling, but those arts don’t always pass down through time as well as the visual.
There is an interesting possibility that our need to express ourselves spiritually as well as artistically may indeed come out of the same human framework or desire - they may well be different aspects or projections of the same primal force in human nature. Both exist to provide symbolic and broad views of the mysteries and powers that lie all around us, and both attempt to forge links that help us understand the non-understandable. They provide a bridge between the sacred and profane. Unlike science which must be based upon a careful examination of the facts and data available, art and faith leap beyond science’s reach, and through the use of imagination and a connection to the spiritual (are they really different?) propel us into and through the unknown.
The function of science has always been to answer questions. It collects verifiable data, subjects it to analysis, and then uses that process to explain and quantify our world. It is not a collection of “maybes”, or “I wonders”, but information and knowledge that we can use in a practical and efficient manner. Art, on the other hand, has always dealt with the mystical, and specializes in asking questions and pointing in new and perhaps improbable directions. If my art offers any answers at all, it tells you what I am thinking about, what is fearful or mystical, what puzzles me and what makes my pulse race and my heart pound. Art’s voice is the sound of the spirit and the soul made audible.
To paraphrase the above paragraph, Science answers questions, Art asks questions. We will return to this concept several times in later essays.
In the past hundred years, art has moved strongly in the direction of self-expression and self-fulfillment, and towards portraying the artist as a unique individual, and at the same time, shed most of its links with obvious, monotheistic religion. Personal creativity has become a widely held value in our culture, and the creative artist personifies that value. It is one of the few opportunities most of us will have to consciously and with full awareness conceive, develop and to present to the world a creative and unique gift. The production of art allows you to give a small piece of your soul to people who otherwise might not even know you exist. You have created that which never was, and, unlike your job or your hobbies, that creation could only have come from you, nobody else could have taken your place. If it weren’t for you, your art would never have been born, and now you have contributed to your posterity. Life is short, art is long. What will you give to eternity?
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