The duality of art

art_dualityAll art is quite useless.” – Oscar Wilde.

In a way, I agree with this statement, and I believe it to be an important element of creating and/or consuming art. We’re talking about a multi-billion dollar industry, yet art doesn’t nourish our bodies, doesn’t heal us when we’re sick (physically.) It does nothing to better the quality of our lives in any tangible way.

But still, art is an important part of who we are as human beings. I don’t believe there is a person on this planet who doesn’t consume art in one way or another: books, music, movies, etc.

This is why art is difficult to define, because even though I do believe that, from a pragmatic point of view, all art is quite useless, at the same time, art is our biggest achievement; it’s what defines us as individuals, as creatures capable of doing more than just eating and sleeping.

Undoubtedly we’d be more than just animals even if we wouldn’t make art, but isn’t it true that we feel most human when we read a wonderful poem or listen to a brilliant song?

I often talk about the human element in art: that part we always leave behind, the part that makes great art. We leave something behind, we always do.

But why?

Because we’re alone.

There are eight billion people in the world right now, most of the living together in huge cities; and it’s been this way for as long as we have existed, but we’ve never acted like a hive of bees. Because we’re unique — and we feel this as the heavy burden of being alone; like being the first one of our kind. And last.

You know there isn’t another one exactly like you, no matter how many billion people there are, you know there will never be, and yet you want to know you’re not alone.

I honestly believe that’s what art is for, and why it’s the most important invention: we make art because we want to know we’re not alone, because only by letting people see inside our heads do we offer them the possibility of feeling like they belong to something much greater than just an individual. Like a single organism. Or an engine. A bunch of parts all working together flawlessly.

I’d like to think about art as being one of those bitter sweet promises … the same as any ideal that united people and made many sacrifice their lives, only this ideal requires that you live in order to enjoy it.

It’s not as great as going to Heaven, or fighting in a war to save your country, or saving another man’s life. It’s not as ambitious as going to the moon and back, or as egotistic as wanting to become the richest man on Earth.

All art is just an illusion, but it’s an illusion we need. Because we’re alone and we want to feel less alone, because we’re mortal, and we want to leave something behind, because we want to change the world and we’re not good enough to change it in any other way than to write a fantastic novel.

Because we want to build something that we can at least hope it will last forever, even if it’s just a lie, a fragile dream.

All art is quite useless. Without it, we wouldn’t die, but we wouldn’t feel quite alive either.

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47 comments on “The duality of art

  1. Beautifully stated. I think that art and the desire to create is evidence of the soul.

  2. seaangel4444 says:

    Very well said, Christian. I quite agree, in this vain I am off to the wonderful Art Institute tomorrow. I am amazed at its sheer size, and yet, gazing at one esquisite piece or painting is enough to feel the human collectiveness. Thank you for your eloquent words. Best, Cher

  3. Julxrp says:

    Because art cannot be quantified and analyzed in the sense of the physical, its stands to reason that art is all its forms are not birthed by it either. Man is not just a physical being. He has a spiritual side as well. Art is purely communication on spiritual level; from one soul to another. Why does one feel a connection to a painting? Why do some songs evoke emotional responses within us?
    You’re right in saying… Without art, we would not die, but we’ll never feel truly alive either.

  4. Isn’t feeding the mind quite useful and therefore valuable?

  5. I love this. You are an excellent writer and you get your ideas across very well. I can only strive to achieve your level of writing expertise. I’m still young, so I’ll use the time I have to improve :)

  6. leximckee says:

    The more I think about it, I believe that humans got the greatest gift they weren’t ready for… and couldn’t be ready for: consciousness. All great art and all mental illness stems from the duality of this gift. All superstition and all good religion flows from this duality. It really is a two-edged sword.
    But if we are to truly ascend above the level of brute beasts (who I adore in their own way so I’m not being condescending), art is the highest expression of enduring consciousness. The fact that we are all so different imbibes all art with unique value.
    One will look at Dali’s work and confidently assert that the man was a nutter… another will have a life transforming ‘moment’.
    Nietzsche can be cited as an inspiration for the Nazi mindset, or he can become a catalyst for positive change.
    I believe to be truly human is to be an artist; to be an artist is to be truly human.
    And to those ‘teachers’ who criticised our ‘art’ as children and turned so many away from this pure faith, I give the gift of my utter contempt!
    You, yes, you reading this, are artistic, are creative, are beautiful… now find a way to express it x

  7. Art might not nourish our bodies, but it sure does a lot for our souls

  8. Nice post. Personally I think art does have a purpose, even though it’s not an economically beneficial one: it disturbs the comforted and comforts the disturbed. It is a sort of study of human psychology, if you like, and a mirror into your own mind. I’m sorry, I don’t really know how to describe this better, except that when I create “art” (well, writing a bit of poetry and prose in my spare time, drawing, writing, arranging and performing music…) I come to understand myself just that little bit better.

    • Making art is always a way of discovering who you are. Or creating who you are. Because you spend a lot of time alone… when writing, drawing, painting, composing, whatever. And by being alone, you confront your own self, you ask yourself questions, you think.

  9. bafriyie says:

    First and most importantly art is a business, and works of art are commodities. That’s an important thing to note and I’m glad that you did. But even though all art is assigned capital worth, there is still something valuable about it. We need art to understand the complexities of life, and in a way art mediates our experiences with the world. I really liked this piece.

  10. A wonderful piece on the importance of art Christian and I total agree. Well done!

  11. aamous6252 says:

    I agree! I think art is all about broadening our horizons by looking at life through someone else’s eyes. I find it amazing that if you asked a hundred people to draw a particular tree, you would end up with a hundred different trees. It’s really all about our different prospectives of life. Life is truly what we make it and we can choose to make it fun and colourful through art, or moody and dark. Regardless we are all unique and creative in our own way and we express this through art.

  12. Marso says:

    Artfully, humanly, said.

  13. Art is meaningful. Creative expression heals and tells stories that could have never been told directly. I personally use art as a healing and uplifting agent. Often times it is essential to creatively deliver a message to evoke the people to change or understand ones pain…..I am a writer , and jewelry makers as well and my artistic outlet is necessary for my healing… That’s just my two cents

  14. This is so true, it gave me shivers.

  15. the_artist says:

    I love your posts, and ones like this lead me to others from your blogging history in 2012 via Related Posts, etc and they are all just such gems. Please know that you consistently get a “Rock on!” from me daily since I started following via my other blog (LittleBoxBigStamp) and this one, and please keep doing your work, which is more than writing – it’s speaking to and with your artist friends both known and unknown, of all media types. Best, Christine

  16. l1brarygrl says:

    I have to respectfully disagree. Art–writing and music–has saved my life many times. Books change people’s lives. One sentence. One song. A melody. A photograph, a film, paint on canvas, someone’s voice, dance, illustrations from a children’s book remembered over three decades later, television programs, on and on. We’re still animals. Nothing changes that. Art moves all animals in some way.

  17. Thanks for this today. I think art is vitally important, but only to the artist. To everyone else it is merely necessary.

  18. jdmckeown says:

    You make a great point about art. I feel that if one’s art can just influence or inspire a single individual, it has done its job. I’ve turned to art to help me through tough times, and loved what it’s able to do. Would I be able to survive without it? Sure. However, I’m glad I don’t have to.

  19. M.Gate says:

    What a great post. I agree with your beautiful interpretation of art, got nothing more to add to it :)

  20. That was quite poetic :) you have such a wonderful way with words. I couldn’t have said it better.

  21. Cheryl says:

    Nicely written. I agree that art is essential, and your point about art being a means of overcoming loneliness and connecting with people is insightful. Art is also a means of expanding our own small worlds: not so much by realizing that there are others like us, but by realizing that others see the world differently and getting the chance to understand why they see it differently.

  22. Great thoughts. I love how art (in all its forms) connects not only artist and audience, but all the different people who make up that audience. How many ice breakers, discussions, debates and friendships have stemmed from a common interest in an art form? Be it an artwork, photograph, book, song, tv show, movie, theatre production, dance, or any of the million other ‘arts’. You could say that the useful, practical things in the world connect people, but art goes that step deeper and connects souls. :)

  23. Sunny says:

    Art calms my soul or enriches my mind, or takes me out of the stress for awhile :) Therefore, art is very useful, for me. :)

  24. bwdell says:

    God made us to be, like him, creative. Art is one form of creating.

  25. Art is quite interesting, alright. It makes me feel youthful, too. And it can connect people together, as well! And it also makes life more and more interesting and enjoyable!

    Yup, we really need art, alright!

  26. I believe that art (paintings, writings, sculptures, whatever) is “man’s” way of trying to make sense of this crazy world we live through his/her own self expression. Art is not art if it doesn’t not contain in itself, communication from one human being to another or even communication to God. Art without purpose is not art. Those who create art for the soul purpose of leaving a legacy has missed the point and purpose of art. Michael Angelo did not paint the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, in my opinion, to leave a legacy. I believe it was his message to God (even the paintings in it that were somewhat mocking God). But hey – what do I know? It is just my opinion and that doesn’t count for much.

    • Yes. Art does not have to be beautiful, art has to send a message. Simple as that. It has to offer something, make you think, ask questions, or feel in a certain way. Otherwise, art is, indeed, meaningless.

  27. Marina says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  28. “Art for art’s sake.” Great post!

  29. Nice post. The beauty of the art lies in the beholder and thus it varies from person to person

  30. I think art is like the rhythm of the soul. It keeps you beating ^___^

  31. Good article, but I believe that art that makes you feel relaxed (thereby removing stress) can be physically healing. When you’re body is out of sync, that’s when you become ill, either physically or mentally. Art is not just pictures–it’s music, song, dance, books, even conversation. Art is something you can share with others. It makes you feel less alone. Sharing with others is part of the healing process.

  32. Walt Viviers says:

    For me, the power of art lies in the creation process. Pragmatically, the appreciation of art is useless, but making art changes your brain, enhances your perception, improves your hand-eye coordination, it has meditative qualities, it’s your own personal psychologist, it is a way to commune with and add to the universal engine of potential and diversity. Watching sport does very little for you, playing sport is a way of life. Appreciating art is quite useless, but making art is being part of the active evolution of the creative, self-aware mind.

  33. Abigail says:

    Art is not useless. I view art as expression. And when you express, you often experience release, usually release of a particular emotion or two or three. Release is huge! This is very helpful/pragmatic. Also art communicates. That makes it unbelievably useful. And last art clarifies back to ourselves. Meaning, often, when you “do art” your own thoughts become clearer in the process. That’s very helpful because then you have something to act on.

    Perhaps all this was said! I did not read all the comments. However, I enjoyed the post and love Oscar Wilde.

  34. adya00 says:

    Art inspires us, be it a painting, an article, a movie, a book. It can literally make our hearts beat faster, make us happy, and happiness can be measured in terms of endorphins. They also help in making our bodies healthy. And secondly, when we are moved by art, inspired by it, we change, then we may many times change our decisions, the result of which can be easily measured in tangible terms. Revolutions have happened after listening to word of poets and authors. Isn’t that tangible?

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