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What is the point of art?

  1. Mar 23, 2004 #1
    Why is art (painting, photography, literature, music, film, sculpture, etc) often put up on the same pedestal as science? Among names like Einstein, Poincare, Newton, and Gauss in a typical list of great contributors to humankind, you'll find names like Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Bach, and Beethoven. But what did the people in this latter group give us apart from a little amusement? What is the value of art beyond mere entertainment? How many geniuses have wasted their potential because they chose to search for truth via art (a completely forlorn hope, by the way) rather than via science, the most reliable way to truth (though nowhere near 100% reliable)? Frankly, I feel that the time I spent on art (reading about it, experiencing it, even trying to do it) in my youth was misspent.

    The questions above are only partially rhetorical. Feel free to answer them, or ridicule me if you like. I'm also interested to see if anyone agrees with me, or if I'm really as contrarian as my brother says I am.

    Added as an afterthought: Even as entertainment, many things trump art: socialising, sex, communing with nature, sport, games, to name a few.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2004 #2
    I guess it's a question between metaphysics and aesthetics. Immanuel Kant wrote some good stuff about it I hear, you could check up on him.
    It's an interesting question. To me art is much more than a 'little amusement'.

    It's many things. You don't just have to see it as pleasure, but also a crossbreed of thoughts and emotions, and thus important to how you perceive things. I guess it lies much in the emotions category. Emotions is how your person directly percieve life, and art is an lifely expression of my emotions.
    Cause not all truth can be found by thought I believe, but also be approached through emotions, or art.
    Maybe you could say art is also communication.
    Art means more to me than science, but then again I'm a musician and artist more than I'm a scientist.

    If art has become just become a pleasure to you(and I think it is to many), I dare you to open up your art definition a little. Art will be how you percieve it.
    Know that you're an growing thing, and as such you could divide art in how you experience it, and how it really is. Great artists has made great works, don't expect yourself to understand those works immediately. ie. I have a rule: When listening to an artist's material I always experience it more than one time before I make up my mind about it. To experience art is to grow, and art is a growing thing.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2004
  4. Mar 23, 2004 #3
    Art elevates humanity and defines a society.

    As a man of science you should know that different people think in different ways (right-brain, left-brain). To try and pigeon-hole an artist into doing science may not work. There are exceptions such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, several of the members here are both artist and scientist.

    Some people need to constantly change what they are doing or they lose interest. I fall into this category as do many others on this forum, I'm sure.

    Finally, I don't think you realize the extent to which art influences life. Architecture, furniture design, book covers, scientfic illustrations, movies, TV & Radio programming, etc.

    The market for scientific inovation is often driven by the artistic ways it is put to use. So don't be too hard on us artisitic types. :smile:
  5. Mar 23, 2004 #4


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    Art is an aspect of human nature (usually a positive aspect). That alone gives it value (to humans, anyway).

    Art can inspire (emotions, philosophy, etc.), can make you think, can communicate ideas, & can record history in ways that other methods cannot.
  6. Mar 23, 2004 #5
    Art gives energy, vigor, warmth, juice, vitality to what would otherwise be sterile.

    Instead of saying: "I am a shy, lonely man." T.S. Eliot said: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas."
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2004
  7. Mar 24, 2004 #6
    I agree with you somewhat, but don't you find that your emotions are highly unreliable in getting at the truth? If I relied on my emotions, I'd probably be a Jesuit monk, rather than a science enthusiast and atheist. Alternatively, I'd have fallen for some get-rich-quick scheme, or new age quackery or a born-again cult. I just don't trust my emotions, they're too misleading.

    Science has revealed such truths as the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, the predictable laws of gravity and electromagentism, the strange properties of matter at the very small scale, the cosmological origin of the microwave background radiation, the evolution of life on Earth, the workings of the cell, plate tectonics, and the periodic table, among many others. A lot of this knowledge is provisional in character, but that's how science works and advances.

    But what truths has art revealed or discovered? Let me choose 3 examples of art which are commonly held up as great:

    1) Ulysses, by James Joyce
    2) Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci
    3) Ninth Symphony, by Ludwig von Beethoven

    What great truths did these works reveal? What did you learn about the world or yourself through experiencing them? I can't think of anything, myself, but that may be because I'm stupid, at least as far as art is concerned. :smile:

    I would not expect otherwise. Nothing deep comes easy. Which is what makes art so frustrating to me. I dug fairly deep, and I found essentially nothing, except occasionally in novels, where I found some simple wisdom that could stated in a sentence or two. I probably lack an artistic temperament, or my aesthetic sense is primitive, or something like that.
  8. Mar 24, 2004 #7
    Maybe you should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
  9. Mar 24, 2004 #8


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    hehe, this is my fiance's favorite quote...

    craqwolf...art is an expression of the human spirit---not all express it with art, some express it in pursuing the truth which science aids in...do you enjoy music? then you appreciate a form of art...

    the fact is, we are human beings and our emotions-although "formed by chemicals"-are the motivator (for example) in pursuing the truth...you desire to understand what is real beyond your emotional state, and this is truly remarkable! i am not sure that art is put on the same pedastal as science, as they aren't really related, at least in my perspective...many people do not have the creative flair (or have yet to discover it!) but understand the thought process behind creating wonderful art...perhaps a good question is, what is the science behind being artistic? how come some can paint and create wonderful music, and others cannot?

    creativity is one of the most important aspects to me of being human...i make many different things that are as unique and beautiful as i can make them, and this gives me an inner joy.
  10. Mar 24, 2004 #9


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    What is the point of pure science?

    Yes, ok, pure science often has meaningful derivations later on, but as Feynmann put it, "that's not why we do it". Pure science is pursued for its own sake - we declare that knowledge is good, regardless of usefulness. In the same way, I suppose you can say that art has some nice side-effects - makes you happy, perhaps - but the real point is that there is no point. Art for art's own sake.
  11. Mar 24, 2004 #10
    Personally, I don't believe art directly reveals anything of particular use about "great truth". In fact, it is rather a celebration and deliberate exploration of empirical experience. The works you list above are, most importantly, about the emotions and minds of the artists. Ulysses is about Joyce, The Mona Lisa is about Da Vinci, and the 9th is about Beethoven. Each is a particularly outstanding and successful effort on the part of the artist to communicate his own perception of things.
    Because I think art is the attempt to express empircal, idiosynchratic, subjective experience articulately I see it as an extremely important stage in any person's development. It is a deliberate attempt to overcome the differences in perspective and experience we percieve to exist between ourselves and others. I believe that most artists are shooting for the goal of directly inducing other people to have the same emotional experience of things that they have had, as a way of bridging the gap between themselves and others.

    I agree with Kerrie in viewing your desire to get to the truth, as an essentially emotional urge. The concept of discovering truths about the world around you is really only important to you because it stirs you up emotionally, and motivates you, as Kerrie says, to go looking for those truths.

    At this point you are much more interested in larger truths, ones that exist outside of any given individuals limitd view and circumstances, ones which are circumambient, rather than what are the idiosynchratic misperceptions that emotions can cause.

    Kerrie says:
    which points out one of the benefits to the artist of the artistic process, which is undertaking the discipline required to make things come out such that they are about what the artist intends then to be about, and not something else.

    In order to capture a personal perspective the artist is required to a large extent to step outside it, examine it more objectively and make decisions about how to express it.

    Then there is the command of the medium to master. You can't make a clay pot without learning something about clay, things you never realized, and a great deal of behind the scenes discipline is acquired by the demands of the clay to let go of your preconceptions and handle it on its own terms.

    In this way, on a small scale, the quest to express one's individual experience leads to the experience of greater, extra-individual truths.
  12. Mar 24, 2004 #11
    What better way to reveal our dreams, to realize our feelings or to stimulate inner passion but through art? Recall the painting your imagination resonates with, an old song that brings tears of memories to surface, or the craziness of Ulysses shifting from prudish dactylic pentameter to rude Anglo-Saxon barking! The component of communication, the sensory stimulation, and the creative source which makes our life bearable, even beautiful, they are all art.
  13. Mar 25, 2004 #12

    Chi Meson

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    Art is personal. The reason that certain artists are "better" than other artists, is that more people are personally affected by the "good artists" than the "hacks."

    I never got much of a kick from poetry, nor from paintings or sculpture or other "physical" art forms, but there are few things that I can do that make me feel better than playing a difficult piece by Bach on the Piano. I am no closer to understanding anything other than the fact that I am experiencing a thrill in being alive. I assume that other people feel similar when experiencing other "arts."

    If you experience absolutely no such thrill in any form of "art," then probably any logical argument will fail to convince you of its worth. But if that's true, I really would feel sorry for you more than anything else.
  14. Mar 25, 2004 #13
    I can agree with this, too. All humans are emotional. Science stirs up emotions in me. But science satisfies my intellectual curiosity as well. It answers or attempts to answer the "why" and "how" questions. Art seems to me to be emotion for emotion's sake.

    So, in other words, art is the objectification of emotion? But that's a hopeless task. Emotions are purely subjective. How do I, as an artist, know that what you're feeling through my work is what I wanted you to feel? You can describe your feelings to me, but I still won't know what you really felt.

    Or perhaps art is something more...

    ...so, I wonder, does art exist mainly to make life bearable? Is it an escape from the harshness of reality? Nietzsche once said, "We have Art in order not to perish of Truth." The artist Paul Klee wrote, "I create in order not to cry." Is this why we have art? That would be sad.
  15. Mar 25, 2004 #14
    "Un croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours."
    Fr., "A picture is worth a thousand words."
  16. Mar 25, 2004 #15
    "More people"? So it's a popularity contest? Does that mean the film "Dumb and Dumber" is a "better" work of art than "Citizen Kane" or "Vertigo" or "The Rules of the Game" or "Tokyo Story" or "Mirror"? How does one actually judge a work of art? What really makes one work of art better than another? I think it's entirely subjective.

    You do realise how incredibly patronising that sounds? And you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of my religious uncle saying how he feels sorry for me (the atheist) because I haven't experienced the communion with God, the power of prayer, or the spirit of Christ. And then I have to bite my tongue to keep my mother happy.

    But to correct you: I have experienced the thrill of art. I've felt plenty of emotions listening to music, reading novels, or watching films. But I get greater kicks from doing other things, like riding a bike, playing games, bushwalking, bodysurfing, and so on. Films are often described as "exciting as a rollercoaster ride!" So why not ride a real rollercoaster?

    If the point of art is to simply experience certain emotions that you wouldn't otherwise experience, then I would say that there are better ways to do that. But if there are other reasons for art, I'm genuinely interested to know of them. This thread has revealed a couple of them, so it's been a worthwhile exercise for me. Thanks for your responses.

    P.S. An equation is worth a million words.
  17. Mar 25, 2004 #16
    I don't understand what you want from this thread. You seem to be arguing as hard as possible to convince everybody that art is worthless. If you don't like it, don't look at it. That is fine. Nobody will chastise you for it. But I think it is a bit presumptious of you to go around telling everybody else that their hobbys are worthless and pointless, because they may think the same about math and science. My mom once said to me "What do I care about the sun and the moons and the stars? I still have to go to work every day and pay the bills. It means nothing to me."
    Not everybody thinks the same way as you do, no matter how right you think you are.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2004
  18. Mar 25, 2004 #17
    deltabourne, let me explain myself a little further.

    1. I'd like to know what is the point and worth of art beyond providing people with a pleasurable hobby. How does it "elevate humanity" as Artman claimed? I can explain why science is more than just a hobby (yes, even pure math, FZ+), and how it "elevates" us, but I can't do so for art. Maybe someone here can (and there are some good candidates already).

    2. As a hobby, I find art to be lacking compared to other activities. That's just my personal preference. I am not implying that my preferences as hobbies are better than yours. Hobbies shouldn't have to be justified, but it shouldn't be a sin to state what you like and what you don't like, and why.

    Number 1 is the main point of this thread. Number 2 I just stated as an aside. I can't control the flow of this thread, so if Number 2 becomes the main point of this thread, then so be it. But that was not my intention.

    Hopefully this makes it clearer what I want from this thread. If not, well, I'm not that good at expressing myself in words, so please forgive me.
  19. Mar 25, 2004 #18


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    crag, i have found a lot of inspiration from lyrics of music to elevate me from within...consider that everyone has their own path of "enlightenment", including studying and practicing science. it doesn't seem that art (at least traditional art) "touches" you, and that is how it is for you individually...perhaps science has yet to define why art "elevates humanity"?

    speaking of art, i am going to the Portland Art Museum and visiting the Rau collection...i know nothing of it, but my fiance appreciates art greatly and has been wanting to see it for quite some time...if by chance, when I am viewing this art, i will "observe" how it touches me, and perhaps have something more concrete to contribute to this thread with my own experiences...
  20. Mar 26, 2004 #19

    Chi Meson

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    OK. It does look more patronizing than intended, I'm sorry for that. I'm glad you do experience the thrill. I did not intend to say that you do not. It was an "if" statment with a general "you" not a personal (as in you-you) you. I doi think we are more in agreement on this subject than not.

    There is no algorithm for determining good art, so yes, in a way, "Art" is a popularity contest. But it is a long term popularity contest. If we came back fifty years from now and did a general survey of people, I can be pretty certain that Citizen Kane would be remembered more than "Dumb and Dumber." Good art has a way of lasting through centuries. Hack art has a way of being forgotten.

    And yes we agree that art is entirely subjective. I think we also would agree that there are many so-called art experts that are full of ... . And, correct me if I am wrong, we would agree that there is a lot of so-called art that is truly garbage.

    But getting back to the thrill; this is what I believe to be the purpose of art because it is the only part that makes sense to me. So there are, absolutely, great artists who are as important to life as great scientists, Quite clearly some people can "do it" and others can't. THis is why Bach has persisted while thousands of temporarily popular composers have been forgotten since Bach died.
  21. Mar 26, 2004 #20

    Chi Meson

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    WHo agrees with this?

    Some equations are art! (Hey Maxwell!)
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