To me, art is a concept that is impossible to define, because any definition of art necessarily limits art, and art should be limitless. I would say that art is what separates humans from other animals, because I feel like the ability to create and appreciate art is one of the defining elements of humanity, but I have seen examples of animals creating artwork, so I do not know that it is a uniquely human concept. However, whether art is unique to humans or is something shared by other highly intelligent animals, I know that art is essential to the human experience. I agree with Dr. Cornell West that, “You can’t talk about the struggle for human freedom unless you talk about the different dimensions of what it means to be human” (West). Therefore, to me, art is about, not only being human, but also about creating the social construct of humanity, and I have looked to Cornell West, bell hooks, and George Hegel’s explanations about the relationship between art and human experience to develop my view of art.
Cornell West poses an interesting question about art. He asks, “How do all of us become artists of living” (West)? Moreover, he believes that art is the way that people become artists of living. In other words, he sees art as a conduit between life and living. I agree with West’s perspective in many ways. I believe that people can exist without art, but that art is critical for living in a manner that has been defined as traditionally human. Whether the art consists of drawings on a cave wall, stories passed down in an oral tradition, or modern movies, all art employs the common rhetorical devices of ethos, logos, and pathos to convey emotional messages from the artist to the audience. However, because art is subjective, the audience impacts the message that the art conveys. This interaction between artist and audience is symbolic of the most basic of emotional human interactions. In other words, it is living.
The idea that art is essential to living, even if not required for existence, has been proven by evidence of art in subsistence situations. Bell Hooks points out that “In countries where folks are ravished by genocidal war and famine, suffering, anguished bodies shroud themselves in beautiful cloth. Indians in Mexico and the United States, living in various states in impoverishment, make clay pots that reveal artistic skill and vision” (Hooks). Moreover, she points out that attempts to strip people of their attachment to art and creativity is one means of dehumanizing people by suggesting that “contemporary African-Americans have been increasingly socialized by the mass media to leave behind attachments to the oppositional worldview of our elders, especially to those having to do with beauty and to assimilate to the mainstream” (Hooks). She reminds people that art can be a critical political and social construct. “Learning to see and appreciate the presence of beauty is an act of resistance in culture of domination that recognizes the production of a pervasive feeling of lack, both material and spiritual, as a useful colonizing strategy” (Hooks).
George Hegel’s approach to art focuses on the fact that art is a product of human activity, made for human appreciation, with its own goal (Hegel). Hegel also points out that, while art is created by humans for human, “this view has not given rise to the thought that this activity, being the conscious product of an external object, can also be known and expounded, and learnt and pursued by others” (Hegel). In other words, art does not exist to convey a specific message by the artist. Instead, while art may evoke emotion in the audience, those emotions may not be the ones felt by the artist or even intended by the artist. What this means is that the artist may create the original work, but the audience continues to shape the form and nature of the art. That basic relationship is, at the most basic level, what it means to be a society.
While unable to develop a definition of art because of my fears that to define a concept is to limit it and my personal belief that art should be limitless; I do see some common factors that exist in art. Using insights from Cornell West, bell hooks, and George Hegel, I believe that art reflects the human experience as it relates to human relationships. Therefore, because relationships are essential to the human experience, I believe that art is essential to human life.
Hegel, George. “Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics. Volume 1.” Marxists.org. N.p. Unk. Web.
17 Oct. 2013.
Hooks, Bell. “Beauty Laid Bare: Aesthetics in the Ordinary.” Feminish.com. 157-165. 1995.
Web. 17 Oct. 2013.
West, Cornell. “Dr. Cornell West Speaks about Art and Culture in a Social Movement.”
YouTube. 2010. Web. 17 Oct. 2013.
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