What is Art? | La Poetica?

Art. Enigmatic word. Fleeting concept.

Art is creativity: YES.

Art is a mode of communication: YES.

Art is a function: YES.

Art is grossly misunderstood: YES.

Art is all of the above. At once, it’s mammalian, human, a coquetry, a display, gesture, cultural signifier, Darwinistic trait, Freudian complex, genetic disposition, a communication mode, universal, altruistic, culturally inflected, earnest.

Art deigns to speak, in all contexts, from the psychological, to the sociological, in power relations, in families, in abstract representations, with cultural, semiotic and biological referents. It purports a history, a behavioral code, an artistic license. It purports a weight: an argument. It often is an attitude, a social role of shapeshifting, an equivocation.

Art is in fact an amalgam of all art theories, working in concurrent digressions, in the spectrum of brain processing, social value coding, and language-meaning processing. It is higher level thinking, a possible ephiphenomenom, but probably not.

Art is assumed to be tangential, in the survival toolkit of the specie. It is not tangential, rather so primary to survival as to be ignored, like breathing. Art is an inflection of being alive de facto. It is a celebration of being alive, or aliveness. It’s the fun of being entertained, and thrilled, right up to the embedded lesson, or admonishment. Art has Dasein. Art has Spirit, Soul, Vodun, Murti, Ma, Elan, Holy Spirit, Unity, Sublimity.  Art is signposts, graffito, wayfaring, space defining, mood changing. Art coolly transfers culture throughout the populace, every day, in different modes and intensities. Often concurrently.

Art, with its pressure release and energy release in the body, its bonding and grooming efficacy, its human communication overlays, has saved the human tribe from destroying itself billions of times over. It is rarely given such tribute.

Art is natural, but practiced art is best. All art is informative, however, and an invitation to parsing, or deconstructing, in the context of human development and cultural history. Art is not just the social film, the play, the book, the dance, the song, but a cultural contract, a linchpin to thinking itself. It is a super-index, a word amongst words. It opens the brain to an experimenting context, and a facing of unknowns and unexploreds. Addressing art is addressing a specific messaging, in a grand context of humanism (or its rejection). Art is in fact a window. Most art frames a local scene, but some art frames a global scene, and infers, informs and purveys a universal motif. Some art can frame a universal motif through time, and across cultures, and becomes timeless, at least to those trained in keeping tabs on culture.

Art can be collected, as rare items, luxury goods, cultural artifacts, or Veblen speculations. An Art World has always existed, in all times, as defined by patrons, commissions, marketing, promotion, sponsorship, and remuneration for the artist,  clearing the artist’s costs of materiel and labor. Art denotes quality, often. It connotes an elite undertaking, based on its requirement for available free time, revenue (or debt access) for materials, studio and survival support. Art must be subsidized, always, and is therefore not defined as legitimate human behavior in what economists call the “Rational Economic Man.” The Rational Economic Man never subsidizes anything that does not benefit himself immediately, such as the commons, or a clean environment. Thus, base gratifications for pleasure, by free market forces alone – often cheap, or free – are construed and advertised as “art.”  Beauty is self-selected out of the Rational Economic Man model.

All of the above is in the current literature, and crosses reading in neurology, ethnobiology, psychology, sociology, brain processing, language and memory acquisition, in addition to a general taxonomy of art within culture and history. Tool making, case goods, architecture, advertising, design, and propaganda are all subsets of art. Fine art might be at times codified as the best art, by social influencers in the dominant cultural complex. Art comes in and out of the public’s purview and thus consciousness, only to be rediscovered and reinterpreted, thus reborn.

Art cannot be helped, but is often best when helped, and helped again. Art often rewards skill, but not always. Excitability, monetization, recognition, cultural status, message velocity, market demand acceleration, and speculation can raise art to an erroneous position in Art History.

Art is an identity, a calling, a craft, a direct and indirect vocation. It infers work, idea making, boundary defining, and bard-like exhortations. Thus bravery.


Copyright © Michael James Hawk, all rights reserved.