Well, Rachit it’s been a while. We took a long break, but now we’re back. We should say that we weren’t completely ignoring our NFC duties – we started some fiction writing that we hope to publish some time. But for now, back to our regular scheduled quibbling over philosophical minutiae.
For our next topic, let’s talk about “art.” What does it mean to us? What role does it have in our society? In the spirit of high school valedictorian speeches, I wanted to start this topic by trying to define what Art is. Wikipedia has this wonderfully specific definition: “art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities.” So basically, art is anything, it’s in the eye of the beholder. That’s not a very fruitful definition so let’s try Merriam-Webster’s: “[art is] something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” That’s more specific, but there are words like ‘imagination’, ‘skill’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘important’ – all concepts that are just as vague. I want to ask you, how is ‘art’ connected to other parts of human culture? It’s hard to imagine that other animals have analogous concepts. I could imagine a pack of Iguana’s playing a primitive version of soccer, but somehow it’s much more difficult to imagine them appreciating a sunset. What is it about Art, with a capital A, that makes it so human?
I think there are two insightful comparisons here. First, art and sports. Much like sports stars, exceptional musicians and artists can be paid incredible sums of money. There are athletes and artists who appeal to the masses, and those that only appeal to experts in the field, those that can understand the subtleties of what it really means to be an artist or athlete. Unlike sport, art, however has no clearly defined rules – it has almost no rules. But what it does have is a pervasive culture of meritocracy. We want to believe that a piece of art speaks for itself and it is unaffected by the reputation or societal standing of the artist. We have ‘art galleries’ that are like mini olympics – showcasing art of amateur artists and exposing them to the masses.
The second comparison is of art and science – or more objective ‘knowledge.’ Largely, art is about personal moments: subjective experience. Science is exactly the opposite – it’s about reproducible, as objective as possible, facts. You’ll probably know where this is going – the ‘b’ word, balance. Of course society needs both. We need art to feed our ‘souls’ and science to feed our ‘minds’. But can we say anything more here? Do certain cultures place more value on one or the other? How does that affect their economic and societal progress? Is it dangerous to place more emphasis on one side of this equation – valuing objective ‘facts’ over subjective emotions?
Lots to discuss, and I’m glad we’re back at it. I hope the new year brings more insights and never-from-concentrate ideas (with lots of pulpy goodness).
Yours in wonder,