What is the point of art?

This is a question that almost everybody has an answer to. Some would accuse art as being merely a superficial distraction, designed to inflate the artist’s egos and all his admirer’s who ‘understand’ his work on a deeper level. This might be one side, but to dismiss art in this way is foolish. The marks left by inked fingers and the stories passed down through voice precede the sterile laboratories in which people expect the absolute truth to be extracted, dissected, and conquered. This extract is from Lehrer’s book, Proust was a neuroscientist; 

We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse ‘negative capability.’ He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had ‘the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Keats realized that just because something can’t be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art”.

This reminded me of reading on Wikipedia that philosophers such as Nietzsche who “focused on subjective human experience rather than the objective truths of mathematics and science, which they believed were too detached or observational to truly get at the human experience.” 

The subjectivity of the arts does create problems for those who have committed themselves to thinking solely scientifically but what is important to remember is that we are subjective creatures. Things don’t always go to plan, and results don’t always match the predictions. There are outliers and anomalies, unexplained bumps in the graph and unknown variables to take into account. Sure, scientific explanations are easier to understand, but they do not always paint the whole picture. You need an artist to do that. 

I have a quote up on my wall saying that even though mathematics may not teach us how to breathe or let someone go, it does give every reason to hope that every problem has a solution. We are all looking for answers, and as said in the extract above, one method of looking is no better than the other, as long as we keep going on discovering. We might never find the answer but I don’t think it matters. We are living in an incredible world, from whatever aspect you see it, that is undeniable, and by taking it all in in all its forms is the best way we can make the most of it. Image

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4 thoughts on “What is the point of art?

  1. Erion says:

    I was rereading Tad Williams’s The Otherland series, when I came across a poem he quotes. Turns out to be e. e. cummings (great analysis!). After a hour, I’m still here, reading your blog and thinking. Despite the fact that I’m not particularly keen on modern literature.
    Bless O society norms that I cannot say more about the blog, or your writing style without turning this all into a wooing… Not via comments anyways. Magnificent!
    As for what’s the point of art? Quoting my favourite poet, “Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death.”

    • madtoread says:

      This makes me so happy, this is why I like talking to people about books. So what literature do you like, not being modern?

      • Erion says:

        The question is a bit daunting to answer. To generalise, I could say that I like everything up to the modernist era, but then I’d leave out Heart of Darkness, which has a quite remarkable glimpse into a human soul.
        So instead, I think it’s better to say that what literature I like heavily depends on whether a literary piece is able to take any reader beyond our society, showing the uncommon, the unknown. Yet, this is still not the best explanation. Crime and Punishment clearly does that.
        The problem, probably stemming from my love of fantasy, is that my acceptance level of what is considered normal is fairly high. Anything going beyond that, possibly spiced with a rich style, however, will grab my attention for sure.

  2. Erion says:

    Since my comment on the topic was a bit abstract, I’d also mention that this so called “tree of life” very much intertwines with the fact that an artist always has an urge to express. Whether we can call the physical manifestation of this a “tree of life” as well and thus produce a forest (or thinking of the fruits of life, an orchard), I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

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