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The Nature of Human Art

The word ‘Art’ comes from a Latin term meaning “skill, way or method”. In ancient times and during the Middle Ages, all kinds of trades and professions were called arts. The liberal arts of the medieval times included music but neither painting, nor sculpture, nor architecture, which were numbered among the mechanical arts since they involved making objects by  hand. At last since the 15th century, the term art has taken on as its principal characteristic inmost societies the requirement its primary purpose is shelter, a great building, for example, is surely a work of art.

The word aesthetic derives from a Greek term for “perceive”. What is perceived aesthetically is “beauty”, according to Oxford Dictionary. Beauty is defined as the quality of giving pleasure to the senses. Yet there are paintings, sculptures, plays, novels intended to produce terror, or revulsion, by the vivid representation of tragic or painful subjects. The same goes for certain moments in music, when loud or dissonant sounds, hardly distinguishable form noise are essential for the full realization of the composer’s purpose.

These are undeniably works of art in the modern meaning of the term, even though beauty conceived as pleasure is largely excluded-that is unless we are willing to count the pleasure we feel in admiring the author’s ability to present gives to an audience seated in perfect safety.

It seems mouthing essential has been overlooked in the Oxford definition of beauty. To be sure, throughout history beauty has been analyzed on a far loftier plane than mere sensory pleasure, beginning in Greek philosophy with treatment of a divine order of which the beauty we perceive is a dim earthly reflection.

Later writers on the philosophy of art-specially in the 18th century and since, culminating in the self-proclaimed “science” of aesthetics-have considered beauty from many different standpoints, constructing elaborate philosophical system, often on the basis of limited knowledge of art and its history. Is there not some distinguishing quality in the every nature of the work of visual, literary or musical art that can embrace both the beautiful and the repellent, so often equality important to the greatest works of art ? The question may perhaps be answered in the light of the concept developed by early 20the century philosopher John Dewey in his book: Art an Experience. Without necessarily subscribing to all of Dewey’s doctrines, one cannot assent to his basic belief than tall of human experience, beautiful and ugly, pleasurable and painful even humorous and absurd can be distilled by the artist, crystallized in a work of art, and preserved by the observer so long as that work lasts. It is this ability to embrace human experience of all sorts and transmit it to the observer that distinguishes the work of art.

If all of human experience can be embodied in works of art, the question would arise, ‘Whose experience?”. Obviously the artist’s first of all. The work inevitably includes some references to the artist’s existence, but even more to the time in which he or she lived.
Today people make works of art because they want to . They enjoy the excitement of creation and the felling of achievement, not to speak of ht triumph of translating thief sensory impressions of the visible world into a personal language of lines, surfaces, forms and colors.

Today the desires that prompt patrons to by works of art are partly aesthetic. Collectors and buyers for museums and business corporations do really experience a deep pleasure in surrounding themselves with beautiful things. But there are other repurposes in collecting. Patrons want to have the best or the latest (often equated with the best) in order to acquire or retain social status. Inevitably the thought of eventual salability to collectors can and often does, play a dramatic role in artist turning out works of art that will not sell.

If our appreciation of art is subject to alterations brought about by time and experience, what makes a work of art good? Are there standards of artistic value? These questions perpetually asked anew, elude satisfactory answer one verbal plane. One can only give examples and these also mat be contradictory. A poet Emily Dickinson was once asked how she knew when a piece of curse was really poetry. She replied, “When it takes the top of your head off.” But what if a work of art that ought to take the top your head off refuses to do so? Demonstrably the same work that moves some viewers is unrewarding to others. Moreover, time and repeated changes can change the attitude of even an experienced person.

Often a dynamic new period in the history of art will find the works of the preceding period distasteful. Countless works of art, many doubtless of very high quality, have either perished because the next generation did not like them or have been substantially altered to fit changes in taste.

The 20th century blessed by unprecedented methods of reproduction of works of art, has given readers a new access to the widest variety of styles and periods. Incidentally, Andre Malraux in his book, The Museums without Walls, has pointed out the dangers of this very opportunity in reducing works of art of every size and character to approximately the same dimensions and texture. There is, of course, no substitute for the direct experience of the real work of art , sometimes overwhelming in its intensity no matter how many times the student may have seen so many reproduction.

The ideal of the twentieth century was to like every “good” work of art. There was an obvious advantage in such an attitude of one against many more wonderful experiences. Yet there are inborn differences between people that no amount of experience can ever change . If after reading many works of art, Ineradicable personal preferences and even blind spots still remain, the student should by no means be ashamed of them.

Barriers of temperament are natural and should be expected. But such admissions should come after and not before a whole-hearted attempt to accept the most disparate anyone who wants to learn, to see and above all to experience.