The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Society ... Socrates Cafe ...

Last night the local Socrates Cafe group struggled over the nature of art. The specific question was whether “art” is confined to what artists do when practicing what is generally accepted as an “art form” (i.e., music, painting, sculpture, acting, etc.); or whether it is legitimate to say that “art” applies to other human endeavors, such as a doctor who is so good at what he does as to seem artistic.

One guy thought that using “art” to describe what doctors and scientists and even accountants do when they are at their best is a dilution and corruption of what is meant when we speak of an art. He said that true artists seek to play on the human soul in an evocative manner; they seek to convey something of the true essence of living to others, to make others appreciative of their being and the world around them. And accountants just don’t do that in balancing their books.

That all sounds pretty good. But I still disagree with the guy. I admit that “the arts”, as they are usually known, attract and interest people who are “artistic”; i.e. people who want to live a life evoking the almost indescribable essence and joy of existence, the purest and most valuable feelings of a life well lived. These people are truly dedicated to their visions, as they compromise their ability to live with relative comfort and economic security that other vocations usually allow. I.e., they reject becoming accountants for a reason.

However, I think that even an accountant can find that “feeling of truly having lived” within her or his life. Accountants are called to do their jobs well and to make moral decisions (think of all the immoral accounting decisions made in recent years by Enron and Bear Sterns and the subprime mortgage companies). They deal with other people, they fall in love and raise families. They are just as involved in society as anyone else. They can live their lives in an “artistic” fashion, integrating values and virtue into their career, their friendships, their family and their dealings with community. They can make life their artful, turn life into a work of art, make it something beyond money and ego. I venture to say that most people, accountants or otherwise, generally don’t achieve this. That’s what keeps therapists and manufacturers of depression medicine so busy.

If my friend is right, this is as it should be; artists should be artistic, and the rest of us should live at a lower level of passion and intensity; quiet desperation, comfortably numb, never fulfilled. But he’s wrong; some non-artistic people do make their careers and their lives into art; the term should be used for them. And it should be a social goal, something to be sought after by everyone.

The “real artists” serve us by setting this standard. They do society a great favor by chasing an ineffable vision, and impossible dream. They give the rest of us some outline of what that “pure essence of being” is. The few outside their world who read their message and live their own lives with passion and virtue and self-actualization deserve to be acknowledged as being “artists”, in the truest sense.


◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:16 pm      

  1. Jim, I certainly can see your argument that work done well is a work of art. And you are so correct that in today’s world it seems that most of that attitude or concept toward life has been long forgotten.

    But I have to say that there is also a good argument made for “art” as a separate category in itself. This kind of art has more to do with emotion and the expression of emotion. Work as art has an intellectual component that I think, if not absent from art, is more background to the emotion expressed.

    There is also the component in art as art in itself that has to do with the “how” of what is done. That is, “how” does one use the paints, “how” does one learn to play a musical instrument, etc. But I have often thought that for those who become simply very skillful at learning the “how” of producing a piece of art (painting, music, etc.) their work is easily distinguished from the artist (of whatever category) who uses the skill learned to produce a work that conveys an emotion to others in such a way that they are able to feel the emotion themselves.

    Thus, while certainly the art of doing work beautifully and well is certainly true and there isn’t enough of it in the world today or it may have been entirely lost in the younger generation(s), there certainly is a case to be made for art that conveys to others an emotion and does that “conveying” well. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — December 10, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

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