The Thinking Arts

The Thinking Arts cover

Can a science of aesthetics help us understand the way our mind and emotions work together to create art? George Lowell Tollefson discusses this issue in light of literature, sculpture, music, and painting in this excerpt from his longer work, Unbridled Democracy.

Author information:

George Lowell Tollefson, a former philosophy professor, lives in New Mexico and writes on the subject of philosophy.

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The Thinking Arts: Painting, Sculpture, Literature, and Music

THE word “art” means the raising of a particular craft to a level of philosophical insight. Most of those who are called artists are not artists. They are merely performers.

MODERN commercial society rejects what is truly meaningful in art. This is because a commodity, to be readily marketable, must shine like a waxed apple. Good art does not shine. It glows.

THERE is a problem with much of modern visual art, literature, music, etc. It is that so much of it represents an abandonment of the humanistic tradition. It emphasizes non-human-based qualities and relations. No doubt, this is owing to the terrible events of the twentieth century: World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, the Stalinist Purges, etc.

But a belief in Humanism is still valid. It is the idea that a better world can be discovered through a deeper understanding of human nature and experience. So, rather than that this idea should be abandoned, it should be clung to. It lies at the heart of Christianity. And it has been dominant in Western Civilization since Giotto painted his dramatic frescos in the fourteenth century.

WHAT makes art endure is its underlying foundation of deep thought: its philosophy. When deep thought dies in a culture, art becomes fashion oriented and excessively self-referential. It then fails to endure, to survive into subsequent eras. This is because it cannot hold meaning for them, other than to satisfy some vague and ephemeral curiosity. Such art loses insightful reference to the fundamental obstacles and triumphs of life.

THE core philosophical element in all great works of art is an integrated view of the world that involves a fresh way of seeing life, expressed as an attitude.

GREAT art is a product of great intellect. Because art involves indirect expression though emotion, its intellectual insights may initially escape notice. But they will surface in the minds of attentive readers, viewers, or listeners over time. For they cannot be permanently overlooked. Moreover, what they clearly are not are verbal, visual, or musical tricks and high jinks of style. They are genuine insights.

ART is precise in being imprecise. This peculiar balance is what makes it art. In fact, its craftsmanship, which is important, lies in a precise delicacy of imprecision. So does its philosophy, its deep seeing, which is equally important. The philosophy is understood without overt articulation.

Take a literary work, such as a story. What this precise delicacy of imprecision does is allow an image, character, situation, or combination of these, to play loosely in the mind. It permits, indeed insists upon,  . . .

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