The Role of Art

Art can be described as the symbols and crafts that define a society, culture, and civilization. It is that by which we can learn about a people’s way of thinking. From prehistoric cave paintings to the contents of Tate Modern in London, humans have communicated their observations via painting, sculpture, music, literature, and rituals (from which later, theatre developed). Great works of art in any medium are timeless. They strike a chord deep in the human psyche. It is a language that does not necessarily use words or speech to communicate its message. As any good poet or writer would affirm, it is not the words in themselves, but their arrangement and syntax that convey another level of meaning outside the threshold of logic and reason. So the purpose of art in any society is to reflect its vision. And simultaneously to raise the consciousness to a higher, more encompassing level.

This aspect is usually a subliminal message. It is felt, rather than seen or heard consciously. This is conveyed most efficiently by music. The beat and rhythm immediately affect the physical body. This causes a reaction which stimulates the hormones. And the hormones create the conscious experience of listening to the music. When we say a piece of music is sad, happy, inspiring or aggressive, we are describing the effect it has on the hormone response to the sound. This is soma psychotic as oppose to psycho-somatic where the mind has altered the physical experience. In other words, music alters the state of the mind. This applies to any art form. I merely used music as an obvious example. The present trend in Art appears to be a disintegration of structured forms. And this most definitely reflects modern society globally. There is a danger here. Where-as the structures and boundaries had stifled creativity, without the discipline required to learn the technical skills, self-expression may simply reduce Art to the lowest common denominator, rather than being a reflection of the highest aspirations and ability.

Metaphorically, Art is the wine from the pressed grapes. Not the mush of the grapes themselves. Perhaps the current confusion comes from the belief that art in any medium is an expression of the artist. It is not. This is the craft. As a painter, I know I derive pleasure from capturing the light of an Autumn sunset on the Irish hills or being able to catch the character in a portrait.

This is the craft of painting. But the art is when I am painting without knowing what it is I am trying to convey. I may have a picture “in my head” that seems to be the structure of the painting. But as I progress, it seems to paint itself. Having years of practice, I also know when it is finished. And when I step back to view it, I am in exactly the same position as any other observer. It is something I have not seen before. I was not conscious of what was being painted or what the underlying meaning may be. It can be experienced in every form of art. Each of us can discover our higher self through the art that inspires.

Be it a piece of music, lyrics, poetry, architecture, literature- each of us is the sum of these parts. It may be simply watching a baby explore its world or the ocean waves crashing into the rugged cliffs that stirs something inside that allows us to glimpse the wonder of creation. Great civilizations are defined by their art, not military might.

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