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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Art and Science

Science is not the only way to know the world. We just saw that for everyday life in our most frequent situations, common sense using a look and listen method and ordinary language is the main way we make it in and know the world. Common sense is connected to our evolved survival techniques, wired into our responses to a sometimes hostile and sometimes benign environment. But any anthropologist would tell you it has no claim to universal and objective truth. It is very social, but not really common to all everywhere--though we often pretend it is.

To achieve more lasting truth in the human condition, we go beyond ordinary language and turn to art. Just as common sense indicates the social aspect in our way of approaching and dealing within the world, art shows the role of imagination. Poesis, or image making, whether in poetry, story telling, painting, sculpture, music, dance, and drama brings us to recognize a kind of higher truth within the particular image that is created.

How could we not be moved by the stories of the wanderings of Odysseus, Aeneas, and Rabbit, the plays of Sophicles, Shakespeare, and Woody Allen, the music of Beethoven and Duke Ellington, the sculptures of Da Vinci and Rodin, These express a more permanent formulation about humanity and our condition. No, art does not explain why the sun rises and sets, but it transfixes us on it in the story of Apollo and in the story of the fourth day of creation.

Art leaves the everyday world of getting along for human survival in which we procure, rework, and divide resources for consumption to live. It makes us notice, focus, and single out something or someone. It highlights a matter for importance. It doing this, it serves common sense and its world by giving meaning to what we are seeing, doing, feeling in the world and prepares for our return to that world. If common sense is life, then art is its spice, that which makes it worthwhile to keep on going. And together.

The artist in making the image is telling a truth from a very unique perspective that the critic, aficionado, or audience can only understand by remaking the image with the artist in their own mind. Nevertheless the artist and art piece claims a certain higher and more universal truth.

In classical art, there is an ideal re-presented as though it always existed in the mind of God--the ideal of man or woman or community or of struggle and love. Modern art reveals how light hits the eye of the beholder or how the world is made up of points of perception. Abstract art calls us to hold many perspectives with many dimensions in one here and now. In so doing, art lifts things and the human enterprise of dealing with things out of ordinary life into a higher realm of beauty and meaning.

But where did that desire for beauty and meaning come from?

It became a running joke when I would ask Bernie as we enjoyed national parks, looked up into the night sky, contemplated the David in Florence, or listened to Brubeck at the Monterey Jazz Festival "what makes that so beautiful?" Leave it alone, she would laugh, it just is. But I kept persisting. What's in us that finds all that beautiful. As I kayak the San Joaquin or the Potomac, I don't think the hawk circling overhead looking for a mouse or rabbit finds it all that beautiful. Nor does the mouse or rabbit. The peahen I guess is attracted by the plumage of the peacock enough to mate. And I suppose my appreciation of a beautiful woman can be attributed to sexual drive. This reinforces Freud's theory of art as sublimation. But c'mon, not the David or Mona Lisa or Dave Brubeck or Notre Dame cathedral or Mount Ranier (though maybe the Grands Tetons?).

Some evolutionary psychologists say that the Serengeti Plains of Africa, the birth place of homo sapiens is the deep memory of Eden as home and paradise and so the model of beauty for humanity. That's a stretch for me. I rather hypothesize that the capacity to make and use words to map our environment allows us to re-present past experiences and predict new ones--a tremendous aid to sustaining human life. As we will conjecture, the symbolic act of language is also the source of the sense of consciousness--a self standing with other selves within an unpredictable environment. The sense of beauty and the desire for meaning arise in that sense of our selves making order out of disorder.

Art is the extension of our capacity for language by making images as representations for the beauty and meaning of order emerging in disorder. When we look at a landscape or a city or even a pile of junk our brain makes fractals--patterns in the muddle. And when we tells stories, paint, sculpt, dance, and ritualize we are expanding on our ability to use gestures and words to communicate and place our selves in our world.

Indeed one could argue, as do chaos theorists, that all nature is chaos emerging cosmos or that we stand with all others between disparity and organization, entropy and syntropy. Life is the organization of complexity. The repelling particles of exploding stars join in an arrangement, regularities within confusion. Beauty and meaning are born with life that expresses itself.

Although art exceeds and feeds the common sense language of our everyday world, lifting us up to a higher plain of reality, that of beauty and meaning, it does not explain. It anticipates infinity especially in its religious expression (which we will deal with in a succeeding section), but it does not put us on infinity's path to achieve the meaning of everything. Only science can do that. But science could not be without the commonality of common sense and the imagination, the image-making of art.


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