Take Your Bearings

Take Your Bearings
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Thank you for the interesting article on art. As a member previously commented, your recent red abstracts really stand out from the rest these days.

Actually, it would be helpful to give concrete examples of a life of art. I’m not really clear on what that means. It’s not when I’m eating dinner. It’s not when I’m grocery shopping or going to the bank. It’s not when I’m doing the laundry. What am I doing during the day that is living a life of art? When is that boundary being crossed? I remember reading at one time about a saint who stated that we should devote our full attention to every task we do so that each time is a unique experience. Is that living ‘artfully’?

That’s an excellent question, Igor, and I doubt I will do it justice in the span of a comment. It’s a topic that many philosophers and scientists writing about art have struggled with. It starts with recognizing the catch in the question, which prevents a direct answer: there are no concrete examples (at least not ones that are applicable in a universal sense). Art by its nature is ambiguous and, at least in part, abstract. For rationalists (which I happen to be), this is a difficult concept to come to terms with.

To live artfully, in my opinion, is to consider your own life your most important artistic creation. And since art is ambiguous and subjective, then what it means to living artfully, has to be ambiguous and subjective, too.

One of the best attempts to describe the power of art in life is the famous “Conclusion” by Walter Pater, which despite its age, is still better than any answer I can give here. But, if you are looking for a more science-based approach, Iain McGIlchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary, includes a great discussion about the ambiguity and importance of art to human life. Both Pater and McGilchrist quote a long list of thinkers who also offered opinions on this topic.

Another great perspective from painter and art educator Robert Henri:

“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible. The world would stagnate without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and he is interesting to others. He does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. He can work in any medium. He simply has to find the gain in the work itself, not outside it.”

Not a concrete answer, since there are none, but hopefully some things to think about.

Thank you so very much Guy; beautiful images and significance in thought. Although I’ve long been an art advocate, I’ve never considered myself an artist, except in music (and that could be questioned). During a long career as a geoarchaeologist, I’ve taken innumerable documentary photos. While documentation remains critical to what I do, in recent years I’ve taken conscious steps toward considering and practicing my photography as art. I’ve a long way to go, on an endless photographic journey (I hope), but this bearing has, I believe, improved and rekindled my engagement with the landscapes where I am so fortunate to live, work, and hope. Somewhat against your advice, I continue to pursue the grandiose plan: as an artist, I’m a more complete scientist.

I know what you mean, Craig. I have an odd fascination with mathematics, and I’m sure you know that some of the greatest mathematicians (and other scientists) described their discoveries in terms of how beautiful or elegant they are. Some went as far as to say that the more elegant a theory, the more likely it is to be true. Both science and art offer opportunity for creativity, flow, expression, experimentation, etc. They are perhaps different in their goals and products, but very similar in terms of the experiences they offer.

“The excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do.” ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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