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What Makes Something Art?

the Emergence Explorer

Questions for the Week of November 27, 2006

Emergence Character Type Babies 9-AI-2

This Week's Questions

[posed by Austin S.]
  • What is the definition of art?
  • Must a school of art have a definition of art?
  • Is there a relationship between composition and the layers of Emergence Personality Theory?

Do you know?

[Question 1] What defines something as being, "art?" What makes someone an "artist?"
As you know, Austin, these are no small questions you're asking here. Being you make your living as an artist, for you, these questions are especially important.

Holy cow! What is "art," and what is an "artist?" What can I say.

My first thoughts are, "art" is something which registers in the mind of the beholder as being exemplary of beauty, truth, and reality. Something which communicates some particular quality or qualities of "reality" in the truest sense of the word, "reality."

By this definition, Monet's impressions and Pollack's dribblings both easily qualify, even though neither attempts to offer photo graphic realities. As do Twain's description of Huck's father in an alcoholic blackout, and Hemingway's metaphor of the hill in war torn Spain shaped like a young girl's breast.

Okay. Something which embodies a quality or qualities of reality. Yes. This, in part, defines art. Yet clearly, this definition is not enough. The psychologist's diagnostic manual, the DSM4R, describes alcoholic blackouts pretty well. Yet it's not art. Not even close. And web porn often describes young girl's breasts, often in more graphic detail than anyone would ever wish for. Yet clearly, this does not qualify as art either.

My next thoughts lead me back to my three defining qualities and specifically, to the word, "beauty." Real art captures some aspect of beauty, even when this aspect evokes horror. The photo of the Vietnamese man kneeling in the road being shot in the head. The May 6, 1937 news film, wherein a German dirigible explodes into flame and burns in 34 seconds while the news reporter cries, "Oh, the humanity!"

Horrific? Yes. Reality? Yes. Art? Almost more than we can bear to witness. Yet here, within a single photo, and a few brief moments of film, we are forced, almost brutally, to face life itself. Our world. Our life. Our painfully impotent humanity.

So yes. That something portrays a quality or qualities of reality is not enough to make it art. These qualities of reality must convey, in some way, the beauty in life. Even when this beauty shocks and saddens the heart.

With this in mind, then perhaps, we might add to our definition that art reaches into the heart and soul of the beholder. Which leads me to my next thought, that "art" is something which embodies living qualities within a non organic form. In other words, "art" creates in the beholder a literal bridge between Emergence Personality Theory's, Layers 9 and 10. In doing so, art connects us, as human beings, to each other. It also connects us to the world in which we humans live. As well as connecting our world to us.

For example, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni's David connects marble (Layer 10) to human beings (Layer 9), both within the sculpture, stone to man, and outside the sculpture, stone to witness. Thus, although we all are, as the Quantum physicists teach us, literally connected in the details, perhaps for us to feel this connection consciously, we need art as a bridge.

Finally I would add that true "art" is timeless in the deepest physical and spiritual senses of this word. Thus, to put this into one of Emergence Personality Theory's, Formulas for Human Consciousness (M=IT), while the value of the M and I variables (meaning and information) in art may vary widely, the value of the T variable (time) would have to be at or close to a 10.

Thus, when the Tajikistani thirteenth century mystical poet, Rumi, writes, "the eye goes blind when it only wants to see why," he manages to capture the essence of blamelessness and the core belief of Emergence all within eleven words. Moreover, he did this eight hundred years ago, and his words ring just as true today. Timelessness to be sure.

So now. Let me try to put what I've said together. "Art" is:

  • Something which registers in the mind of the beholder as being exemplary of beauty, truth, and reality.
  • Something which captures some aspect of beauty, even when this aspect evokes horror.
  • Something which literally creates a bridge within us between the world in which we live and ourselves as humans; a Layer 10 to Layer 9 connection.
  • Something which does all this timelessly, as in the value of T in M=I(T) is at or approaching 10.

All this said, I openly admit, these words, as meaningful as they may be to some, still fall dreadfully short of defining "art" itself. Why? Because "the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao." In other words, only "art" can describe "art." Anything less is mere Layer 2, "from-a-distance," words about art and not art itself. This said, then perhaps I should add that "art" is:

  • Something which cannot be put into words. It must be visible to be art. At least, in the mind of the beholder.

Oh, and one more thing. The other question. "What is an artist?" My answer? A human being who builds bridges between us and our world. Beautiful bridges. Timeless bridges. Real bridges. Beyond words bridges.

And for anyone not now recognizing what this means, it means that artists and shamans are brothers and sisters at heart. You see, shamans are also builders of bridges. In their case, of course, rather than focusing on bridging us to each other's beauty, shamans build these bridges as the means to heal our relationships; between people and themselves, between people and people, between people and their world, and between people and God. Which means they focus on a special kind of beauty.

[Question 2] Can art be described as a pattern of "threads of similarity?"
Probably. But seeing these threads separately would be a heck of an impossible task. And one which, in all likelihood, would kill any of the real beauty in the art.

What I'm saying is, I believe art exists only within a connection between an art form and an art lover. In other words, it exists only within a Layer 10 to Layer 9 connection. Thus, I believe artfully written words become art only after being read and then told to another. I actually see this second telling as what breathes life into these words and makes them a living art.

Some might disagree and say that art lives within the creation itself. However, because I see the essence of art as that it creates a living, breathing connection between an observer (a person) and this person's world, I cannot imagine art as being finished without this Layer 10 to Layer 9 bridge.

In a way then, we could say that art exists only as an "entirety," a creation which includes both the art form itself and the system in which this art form is observed. Thus, while I do agree with you, that art is a cohesive collection of threads of similarity, I cannot imagine proving this. Why not? Because I cannot imagine how we might separate an art form from the observer without destroying the very connection which makes this art form, "art."

[Question 3] Is art alive? Is organicity a truth inherent in all art?
Organicity? Yes. Absolutely. And as I just said, I believe all true art is a living, breathing creation. This, however, means that seeing things as "art" is like truly knowing human beings; we can truly know people only by witnessing them within their natural environments.

Art is the same. What I mean is, the art in art dies when we try to experience it in isolation from an environment. Picture from frame. Music from music hall. Ballerina from stage and lights. Ink and pen from page.

Thus, to be seen as art, an art form must be seen where it lives; within an environment. Which is why, I guess, we often see the world's greatest art being shown within some of the world's most beautiful buildings. Which, as I believe, makes these buildings a part of the art. Along with the art lovers.

[Question 4] Is there a relationship between composition and the layers of Emergence Personality Theory? What are some of the basic threads of similarity between art and human personality? That is, can a Layers of Aloneness topographical model be used to describe art?
Is there a relationship between composition and the layers of Emergence Personality Theory? Yes. And as I've been saying, the essence of this relationship is that art creates a living bridge between persons and non persons; a personal connection between people and their world; a Layer 9 to Layer 10 connection.

I guess the question would then become, so do any other of the other Layers come into play?

In truth, I would think that all the Layers could appear in art, in one way or another. For instance, seeing a shockingly real medical photo, for instance, of a just born child, might provoke anything from Layer 6 blocks (reliving a childhood operation) or Layer 5 symptoms (e.g. fear, disgust, anxiety) to a Layer 4 tirade against the medical profession for inadequately addressing the needs of the mother (Layer 7).

Artfully painting this scene in oils might capture a timelessly intense experience. As well as blending into it all these Layers; 10, 9, 7, 6, 5, and 4.

What interests me is how seeing art in this way creates a bridge between science and spirituality. And now, as I think about it, perhaps I should add this bridge to my definition:

  • Art creates a bridge between science and spirituality.

[Question 5] Must a school of art have a definition of art?
Yes, Austin, I would think it would have to. Especially to be considered a legitimate school of art. However, I also think this definition would need to be fluid and endlessly deep. Thus, while there would have to be some kind of recognizable starting point, there would also need to be no end in sight.

Now, to offer a real world example of something I see as a school of art, consider "tree leaves." Literally. Visually.

We all easily recognize the fractal pattern which defines something as being a leaf. Yet, there is not real limit to how many ways the art form we call, "leaves," can be expressed. Moreover, this is true even when considering the life span of a single oak leaf, in that the art form grows and changes, from bloom to fall coloring.

Some times this art form even continues past death, in that some leaves, such as oak leaves, then become the essential ingredient in an ink. Which may then lead to a new art form, for instance, a pen and ink drawing.

Perhaps this is what makes it so hard to define art. Perhaps art has no boundaries in who, what, where, when, and how it effects us and our world.

Perhaps this is what makes many of us refer to a "personal" God. We can so easily imagine God as an "artist" responsible for all that is.

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