There is truth in good art.
Look upon well-composed symphonies, masterful paintings, eloquent writing, well-choreographed films, and notice how something about them strikes us as deeply meaningful and harmonious.
We don’t even necessarily know what that it is about them. It’s like there is something essentially right about high-quality art—something intrinsically validating and compelling that speaks to the deeper elements of our existence.
As much as we may appreciate certain forms of art, many of us are profoundly lacking in understanding of why art has such a powerful effect on us. Perhaps if we had this level of understanding, we would allow it to improve our lives much more directly.
I am not saying that certain pieces of art are more “correct” than others, as if there is some kind of golden standard. Rather, I mean that all art that can be appreciated as something beautifully sincere and truthful. We can acknowledge that there is some kind of hidden intelligence embedded within it.
Although the feelings elicited by certain art forms might be different, the skillfully-coordinated manner in which it is expressed allows it to be felt all the same. Every compelling piece of art arose from a similar state of perception, even if it was created for different reasons and resonates with different emotions.
There is a distinctly similar undercurrent to all successful art—and yes, there is a such thing as “successful” art.
The success of artwork is determined by the effect it has on the inner-lives of those who bare witness to it. Surely some expressions are more inwardly impactful than others.
Art is the best kind of propaganda in that it gracefully suggests how to live and what being human really entails. Great art shows us, through the utility of its own beauty, how to look upon the world and what we ought to see when we look.
“If you ask somebody in Christianity, ‘What is art for?’ they will give you a very simple answer. The point of art is to lend luster and conviction to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s to convince you to be a little more like Jesus. That’s what all great works of Christian art are doing, it is propaganda on behalf of the Christian church. I believe that art should be propaganda on behalf of something else. Not theology, but psychology. I believe that art should serve the needs of our psyche as efficiently and clearly as it served the needs of theology for hundreds of years.” ~ Alain de Botton
Art conveys the most acutely harmonious manner of being, and does so in a way that reflects our intimate thoughts and feelings. I find when I am looking at something beautiful that it speaks to me directly, like it’s trying to whisper to me. I get the sense that it knows who I am. I don’t think this feeling is coincidental, nor do I believe I am alone in this experience.
Art is at once entirely impersonal in the sense that one can objectively appreciate the creative efficiency of it, while also remaining deeply personal in the sense that it seems to be regarding or affirming something intimately unique to the individual looking upon it.
This is why I believe art to be so deeply meaningful and powerfully alluring. It expresses the quintessential balance between self (our thoughts and feelings) and other (the infinite complexity of nature itself). As individuals, we are limited and fragile, yet it is this limitation and fragility amidst the vastness of the universe that makes the human experience so interesting.
Good art strikes this balance—the balance between the known and the unknown. This balance underlies the totality of our existence, for wherever we go there are things we know and things we don’t know.
Jordan B. Peterson describes this state of being with eloquent precision:
“The Daoists believe that a meaningful life, the optimally meaningful life, is to be found on the border between chaos and order, and I would say that your nervous system tells you exactly when you are there, and it’s a kind of place. You can tell when you are there because you are secure enough to be confident, but not so secure that you are bored, and you are interested enough to be awake, but not so interested that you are terrified. When you are in a state like that, when you find things interesting and meaningful, then time slips by you and you are no longer self-conscious.”
Art puts us back in alignment with our deepest nature, brings us most wholly upon the present moment, and reminds us why we are alive. It is of the utmost importance to add an artistic dimension to our lives (if there isn’t one already), and to not limit our intake of art merely to one form. Appreciating different art forms doesn’t just make us better artists, it makes us better people.
“Really what I am trying to do with art is invite you to start to use art as something that can alleviate your sorrows, bring you hope, and give you courage. It is a resource, a living resource, that is there for our hearts, and is not just an academic or historical exercise.” ~ Alain de Botton
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Mike Wilson/Unsplash
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Taia Butler