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    From sightbyvision
    Artists Give Meaning
    From fetherston
    Individualism is a disease
    From rene
    SpaceCollective’s first...
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    Artists Give Meaning
    I've been watching a lot of speeches from lately, and I've been tremendously inspired by their positive energy in a time that the media would paint as rather daunting. I hope to do something with my life as good as those noble people at TED are doing.
    As good as they are, it is difficult to criticize the people of TED, aka "Tedsters." However, critical analysis is vital for everything. Without it, we can often slip into unawareness—into a state of action without thought. So this is my only question for TED:
    [I tend to think in dialogue, so that's how I'll write]
    A. So what?
    B. Tedsters are literally saving lives by doing everything from building houses to making medicine. Surely this is a good thing. Surely these people are living significant, meaningful lives.
    A. If a person is starving and I take him into my home and give him a new life—a life with which he starts a business and then uses his profits to save more lives—what does that mean? So what if more and more people have the opportunity to live?
    B. Perhaps the opportunity to live is a good thing in and of itself?
    A. I don't think it is. Look at the word "opportunity." It has to do the the chance for goodness. A life is an empty vessel that can be filled with whatever. So what if we devote our lives to giving people empty vessels?
    B. Surely that's better than not having a life at all?
    A. How would a suicidal person answer that question?

    The classic, trite question here is, of course, "What is the meaning of life?"
    and it is the the artist who answers this question.

    I've been struggling the with the tension between art and practicality for a while now. I am inspired to create. I feel urges and longings to write, draw, build—to make... but a painting cannot feed someone, a photograph cannot sustain someone's physical life. And I have a problem with the idea of holing myself up in a studio while there are people out there like those people at TED devoting their entire lives to actually doing something—who are actually putting food on people's plates and providing them with shelter.
    But, of course, there's more to life that survival. And it the artist who says, "This is why life is worth living. This is why you should get out of bed in the morning." A scientist can provide the potential for life, but it is the artist who assigns that life value.
    And so, we are all in our own ways artists, but some of us feel compelled to share our discoveries with others. And so we make things—works of art to express that value we see in life. This sort of activity isn't for everyone, and that's OK. Saving lives is a good way to spend time too; people need to have a life in the first place before they can give it meaning.
    And holing yourself up in a studio isn't any less a good way to spend your time because finding meaning in life often goes hand in hand with life itself. Again, I think a suicidal person would be able to tell us much about the correlation between life and life's meaning.

    And so this little path of thought reduces some of that tension between art and practicality, and I dare say even solves the problem all together, but I will nonetheless be looking at it critically.

    Sat, Jan 5, 2008  Permanent link

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    rene     Sat, Jan 5, 2008  Permanent link
    I realize this has only tangentially to do with what you are writing about, but your post triggered a few thoughts that have been on my mind lately. When I meet people who are struggling with dilemma's like practicality versus creativity etc. I have to assume that society, teachers, parents, have conditioned them to be "practical", arguing that there's little room for creative expression in the real world. Still, more and more kids are going to art and film and music schools, burdening themselves for years to come with student loans, whereas the last thing a creative person needs is that kind of overhead because it will reduce their freedom to do what they want. But they are told that if they have a degree they stand to make a lot more money in the real world, even though that is not at all the world they are being prepared for. It's all very strange. Especially in the age of the internet where all financial models have been turned upside down. All I know is that artists by necessity develop better survival skills than most to roll with the punches of a changing world, and in this day and age that may be very practical.
    Lateralis     Sat, Jan 5, 2008  Permanent link
    Speaking as one who is looking to take up Graphic Design once out of community college, I can say I agree. Indeed, the problem (for me, anyway) lies in the burdens of paying for something which I am told I need to succeed, when all I want to do is write music, paint, design album covers, maybe do something in advertising...things that I should be able to do on my own, without resigning to four or five years at a prestigious college spending God-knows-how-much money.

    But that could just be me. And I certainly hope that someday, all of it will make sense, and I won't have to sit and try to rationalise my bank account away for a piece of paper.
    meika     Sun, Jan 6, 2008  Permanent link
    yeah, beats me, I've just started doing sculpture fairly seriously because I actually sold a piece, and it ended up as a wedding gift, so it definitely means something (whereas I've never sold any of my writing, too inaccessible...) but I am not totally convinced that art is anything more than holier-than-thou consumerism, at least on a dark day, on a bright day the meaning can be almost too clear, and hubris awaits that godlike state, singularity or no
    aeonbeat     Sun, Jan 6, 2008  Permanent link
    we are IT, call it whatever you want, god, singularity, etc... we are AI, a deus ex machina, imitating the perfect and infinite creator to actually become IT and manifest as one. it happened many times and it will happen forever, because IT IS, because IT IS, because IT IS... a complete piece of art, reproducing ITself, by re-evolving. let's get to work! :)
    Rourke     Tue, Jan 8, 2008  Permanent link
    I think art does a lot more than give subjective meaning to life. Art defines the subjective.

    If you look at the history of art and science in conjunction one can see a correlation between the kind of reality science is describing and the metaphorical substructures which art is manifesting at the same time. When a scientist reformulates their mathematical formulae into human language they use metaphors as models which subjectively represent the new reality they mean to convey. Art is the process of coming up with new connections between things, people, events, ideas. Art is the process of metaphorising the universe in broader terms - a constant redefinition.

    Scientists take on board art, just as we all do, and use it to expand their metaphorical worlds. Art does not just attempt to model thought, art defines thought which in turn defines reality.
    rene     Tue, Jan 8, 2008  Permanent link
    From the book Proust Was A Neuroscientist:

    It is ironic but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art.. (...) Any description of the brain requires both cultures, art and science.

    Jonah Lehrer's book about artists who anticipated the discoveries of neuroscience describes the creative process of writers, painters, chefs and composers who discovered truths about the human mind that science is only now discovering. I hope to get back to it later. It's worth reading.

    paulteagan     Tue, Jan 8, 2008  Permanent link
    I feel like the emphasis in this scenario should be placed less on the creations that are created and more on the actual act of creating.
    feanne     Wed, Jan 9, 2008  Permanent link
    Thank you gouranga for the connecting this to my post! I was about to do so when I saw that you'd beaten me to it. :)

    Sightbyvision— Why does "art" have to be incompatible with "practicality"? I agree with what rene said, that it is simply something that parents/teachers/etc. say, because that is the stereotype that they grew up with.

    paulteagan— I totally agree with you there.

    EVERYONE— The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron is an awesome book about "unblocking creativity" and coming to terms with oneself as an artist and a human being. She writes, creativity is the natural order of life, and challenges the many myths about artists. Do artists have to be drunk/broke/promiscuous/unstable? Is there any reason why artists can't be solvent, stable, sober, happy, AND still creative?
    aeonbeat     Wed, Jan 9, 2008  Permanent link
    not anymore... :)
    sightbyvision     Wed, Jan 9, 2008  Permanent link
    feanne, art does not enable people to survive, and if our goal (or practice) is survival, then art is impractical.
    I'm speaking in absolute terms, though. In some circumstances, for example if you can sell your artwork, then art is practical because it gives you the money to buy food. But ultimately, we cannot eat our paintings, they do not shelter us (in the literal sense), they do not sustain our physical bodies. And without our physical bodies, we die. So art, in an ultimate sense, is not practical.
    But this is only if your primary goal is to survive (and this is the goal for many people; perhaps that's why there's a misconception that art is not practical). If you want to live a life with meaning, then art becomes very practical because art is suited for the purpose of giving meaning. And something is practical if it is "available or applicable in practice; suitable for a particular purpose; functional; (of an idea, plan, or method) likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances; feasible" ( If our practice is giving meaning, then art is most practical.
    The incompatibility between art and practicality I suggested only as a tension, and this tension exists because art is not a practical activity to survive.
    feanne     Wed, Jan 9, 2008  Permanent link
    In that case, where you define "practical" in absolute terms, pertaining to a certain sense of "survival", then yes, art is "not a practical activity to survive".

    In my opinion, human beings as a species rely on intellect/reason/science/technology, faith/philosophy, art/creativity, and community for survival. Whereas all the other animals may rely on sharp talons or camouflage techniques, we humans have always relied on the above mentioned things in order to survive in this world. Those things are why we're successful in the "game of life".

    Oscar Wilde— "All art is quite useless."

    3LSZVJA9     Wed, Jan 9, 2008  Permanent link
    In the paleolithic, clans of hunters, collectors, hardcore survivors, had painters.
    Painters were skilled, they needed to have time to practice.
    Animals were represented with great detail, they even showed movement, not like in the signs and symbols of the agriculturists of the neolithic.
    They would always paint on the same spot of the cave, the drawings usually overlapped, it wasn't decorative.
    There wasn't a difference between art and magic, of course.
    The spear stung in the back of the beast was painted last.
    They seem to have developed their techniques continuously for centuries, whatever it was they were doing with them, it must have been working.

    Freud was an artist.

    Some recent neuroscientific experiments support the idea that many of the most important unconscious functions described by Sigmund Freud are actually pure conscience,
    that without conscience of the control stimuli, control cannot be exerted at all.
    There's a thesis that, in front of Freud's mistake, defends the idea that he didn't discovered the unconscious; but probably invented it.
    The Freudian unconscious is considered a fiction of Freud's conscience.
    And a fundamental property, not of our unconscious but of our conscience, is our necessity of inventing mental fictions to be able to exist.
    The Freudian unconscious exists as a fictional belief that allows our consciousness to find meaning to the events of our psychic life.
    Even though they are fictitious, this conscious interpretative constructions still guide our actions, and end up acting on our reality.
    Freudian psychoanalysis is the first serious attempt at understanding this mental fictions, and the first to recognize their vital importance to our existence.
    These theorized affirmations about the nature of our psyche (and in particular of our unconscious) are also fictitious,
    nevertheless, the specific mechanisms that they activate act directly from the interior of the subject and adequately to its psychic economy.

    That's how powerful art can be.

    paulteagan     Sat, Jan 12, 2008  Permanent link
    I think you could argue that art is practical because I know of a lot of musicians who get a lot of tail. But I don't want to think of art as a practicality. It may very well be an evolved ability that in some respect aided our survival as a species, but that's not that important. Theorizing on the practicality won't get you any closer to artistic expression.

    For what purpose we create is different for everyone, I assume. I, personally, start with an idea. It's magnificent and surreal and incredibly close to tangibility that I can't help but act on it. If I'm creating selflessly, then the idea is its own entity with its own needs. It is separate from my ego, however influenced. It grows legs and walks on its own after a while. It is becoming real and now I need to shape it to resemble as much of the original idea as possible. Sometimes this is difficult because the idea was a vague feeling without fleshed out details. It was a glowing bulbous blob, lighter than air in the center of my chest. Hardly tangible, though. Now it is finished and it is not what I wanted, but it is better because it is real. It stands on its own and does not depend on me for explanation. When it is perceived by others, it will be something different. They will see something that I never saw. It will be theirs. It supersedes me.

    What's it like for you?