ART & ORGANISM
“Every creator’s creations are their coping mechanism for life — for the loneliness of being, for the longing for connection, for the dazzling incomprehension of what it all means. What we call art is simply a gesture toward some authentic answer to these open questions, at once universal and intimately felt — questions aimed at the elemental truths of being alive, animated by a craving for beauty, haunted by the need to find a way of bearing our mortality.
Without this elemental longing, without this authentic gesture, what is made is not art but something else — the kind of commodified craftsmanship Virginia Woolf indicted when she weighed creativity against catering.” (Maria Popova in The Marginalian)
ART (like SCIENCE) is an extreme expression of “nothing but the ordinary workings of the mind” –an assemblage of neuronally-based or coordinated competencies.
ARTISTS as seen in our culture: Are they unique individuals or ordinary individuals experiencing a unique–possibly transitory–frame of mind? Remembering that EACH of the individually identifiable competencies can manifest across a spectrum
So, ARE WE ALL ARTISTS? or at least capable of artistry in a particular frame of mind… the configuration of overlapping/interdigitating cognitive functions…
In defining (or describing) ART (or artists) I have to accommodate its three main parts, creating, communicating, and receiving, and the fact that each of these involves multiple cognitive functions in differing proportions. I cannot do this (no one should try to do this) without being powerfully (and sometimes poignantly) aware of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. I use some clinical language to avoid the baggage and biases of everyday language: I think of art as
Discussed in the context of integrative biology, “ART” refers to both a PROCESS and a PRODUCT: something we do and the outcome of those actions. It reflects the manner in which a diversity of COGNITIVE PROCESSES are coordinated.
In other terms, ART meets biological needs–including the needs “to know and to be known”). In general, it can also be understood as “EXPRESSIVE” or “RECEPTIVE,” borrowing the terms common in discussing the communicative language disorde, aphasia.
EXPRESSIVE (the “creating of art” … acting on one’s self or environment; meeting the need to create as a means of communicating within and between individuals. It involves actions (or their suppression) and projecting or representing the state of the artist)
RECEPTIVE (the perception and “appreciation of art” …attending to one’s self or environment; meeting the “recipient’s” needs) is interpretive in that SELECTIVE ATTENTION is involved. This is moderated by the recipient’s priorities and what is “allowed” through to deeper levels of assimilation or accommodation.)
THE analogy to two clinically defined forms of aphasia is deliberate, intended to be provocative: EXPRESSIVE APHASIA (also known as “Broca’s aphasia”–impaired ability to produce spoken or written language, although comprehension is likely intact), and RECEPTIVE APHASIA (also known as “Wernicke’s aphasia”– impaired understanding of written and spoken language). These are, of course, generalities associated with two distinctive parts of the brain, but there are dozens of afferent & effecernt connecting pathways meaning that aphasia in the details of its clinical expression can be very variable. As indeed are the details of the motivation and rewards of creation and appreciation of art. A specialized “connectome” awaiting a comprehensive synthesis and interpretation.
ARTISTIC ATTITUDE: most simply put, this frame of mind involves our best effort at mindful aesthetics and a desire to experience and represent our state of mind, about which we are motivated to progressively enhance our understand (a process enhanced by externalizing and assessing feedback from one’s self or others (the artist’s audience). [more]
THE ARTIST: Artistry is an extreme expression of CREATIVITY in COMMUNICATION with one’s self or with others. It represents a state of mind that is more-or-less ephemeral and dependent on all the DEEP variables that ethologists study. Taken together these functions actualize the implicit mandate to know and to be known—the deep reflection of our normal developmental processes of individuation and socialization, states for which we yearn–the desire for something just out of reach.
AND how we YEARN to know and to be known … to make the connections that enable CREATIVE growth within and between individuals— and Yearning is not to be taken lightly [it is the engine of growth]:
Mary, a federal witness-protection marshal, once said,
“We have needs, wants, desires, and then there is this other thing … and this is important, so pay attention:
before the big bang, before time itself, before matter, energy, velocity, there existed a single immeasurable state called yearning.
This is the special force that on the day before days obliterated nothing into everything. It is the unseen strings tying planets to stars. It is the maddening want we feel from first breath to last light.” [i]
We yearn to connect because we yearn for meaning. And it is in our vast reservoir of memories that connections are found that give rise to IMAGINATION. MEANING IS born there—struggling—yearning—to go beyond—like a word desperately trying to escape the dictionary. [I dream here of a scene from the Matrix—seemingly endless imprisoned consciousnesses… or a creature desperately trying to escape a maze]
ON BEING AN ARTIST.
The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work—Zola
BUT for many, the need to express one’s self becomes urgent: “And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”—Anaïs Nin.[i] This recalls: “Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.”—Stephen DeStaebler (quoted by David Bayles and Ted Orlan in Art and Fear Capra Press, Santa Barbara 1993).
James Baldwin, recalling what the poet Mark Strand would come to echo in his beautiful assertion that the artist’s task is to bear witness to our experience … Baldwin considers the singular responsibility and burden of the artist:
The crime of which you discover slowly you are guilty is not so much that you are aware, which is bad enough, but that other people see that you are and cannot bear to watch it, because it testifies to the fact that they are not. You’re bearing witness helplessly to something which everybody knows and nobody wants to face.” (From James Baldwin via Brain Pickings[recalling Cassandra?[ii]])
“The sole purpose of human existence,” Carl Jung wrote in his reflections of life and death in 1957, “is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Five years later, in one of his least well-known but most enchanting works, the great novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and cultural critic James Baldwin argued for this existential kindling of light as the sole purpose of the artist’s life. (From brainpickings.org/2014/08/20/)
IMAGINATION and its deployment in the service of communicating—connecting—involves the cognitive neural architectonics of overlapping and interpenetrating cognitive functions with more-or-less intensity.
ARTISTS—or episodes of ARTISTRY—are precious to us in the same way as imagination. Artists are particularly adept at envisioning and communicating aspects of their environments potentially harmful to themselves and others. They can be “the canary in the coal mine,” helping us foresee future circumstances that we could then subject to error detection and correction . We, therefore, if only for our own sakes, have a responsibility of protection. (even though, at their most extreme—like all expressions of behavior—they can be obsessive, dysfunctional, destructive). As in children’s playgrounds, there is an intuitive impulse to protect creative growth wherever we find it.
And just as we cherish and protect our infants and children as they grow and develop, we must protect all those in whom the yearning for connections and the creative spirit surges… when we find such a person we should
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For she on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.[ii]
JAMES BALDWIN’s view: “Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone. [immune from bias] That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality — a banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed. [may be true at the deepest, implicit, level of being] Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world. There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.” — James Baldwin on the Creative Process and the Artist’s Responsibility to Society – The Marginalian (annotated) Compare to Ezra Pound: “Artists are the antennae of the race, but the bullet‑headed many will never learn to trust their great artists. (1972) in Literary Essays (1954) & see Henry James and Pearl Buck on the super sensitivity of the artist. –The canary in the coal mine. see my POST entry on THE ARTIST
“Making anything of value—a work of art, a poem, a solid piece of furniture—demands a deep descent into the self, to the point that it’s easy to neglect the needs of others in your orbit. Stay in the zone too long and there’s a danger of forgetting how to have a simple conversation or make a phone call, of going a little feral. Going into the inner wilderness is great as long as we can follow the trail of bread crumbs back to the world of human connection.” (Stephanie Zacharek 2023, opening paragraph to her review of Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up in TIME April 10.17, 2023 p62)
[i](voiceover by (character) Mary Shannon at the end of an episode of “In Plain Sight.”)
[ii] Last four lines from Kubla Kahn by ST Coleridge
[i] The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Is “Frequently attributed to Nin, but without cited source in her work (possibly due to a quotation in Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions (2000) by Dan Millman that attributed the quote to Nin without source). / In March 2013, a former Director of Public Relations at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, Elizabeth Appell, claimed she had authored the quote in 1979 for an inspirational header on a class schedule: http://anaisninblog.skybluepress.com/2013/03/who-wrote-risk-is-the-mystery-solved/ Wikiquotes
[ii] In my favorite of the several versions, Cassandra was given the gift of prophesy by Apollo for promising to have sex with him, and then cursed by him when she refused.
- ART is COMMUNICATION: Delacroix-on-painting-as-communication/
- uncertainties of brain research
- IS art-in-the-brain-of-the-beholder/?
- SOCIAL CONNECTIONS: ARTIST’S STATEMENTS. backstory is used to great effect by the Tate Gallery : Power of the Backstory
- art-in-the-brain-experience-and-expression/ (van Leeuwen et al. Front Neurosci. 2022).