On the KW Hungry Mind Meetup discussions about art, Andres commented that
“Art is something ...that when you look at it...gives you a kind of..pleasure. That remains....that makes wonder...that makes you smile...that earns its spot on your wall or floor each and every time you see it. Much like your crush does.”
The part about art giving a kind of pleasure and makes one wonder resonated with me and indeed made me wonder of its meaning. Extending that a bit further, I think art can come from any number of senses that touches our emotions. I am not at all versed in the visual arts but have enjoyed music for much of my life. A piece I've come to like a lot is the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion from Bach - it's the first 11 minutes of this clip (the entire piece is 3 hrs).
I kept wondering why this particular piece or this segment of it attracted me in the first place. I'm not religious, and this conductor plays the piece is extraordinarily and painfully slowly, and the numbers in the choir and orchestra make up is as massive as any I've seen. But perhaps due to all these, I was awed by both the visual impact as well as the auditory pleasure as observed from the interplay of various voices in excruciating detail. I've since gradually grown to like other parts of this piece, and often tend toward other renditions of it. Yet, without this particular initial experience, I don't know if I'd be inspired by and introduced to this genre of music. Its vocal and instrumental colours were so distant from any prior experience that I was drawn to explore more. Could that be considered a sense of beauty or is it simply benign curiosity?
As for visual art, I remember a TED speaker from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art showing his curated work in the Islamic Wing of the museum, some examples are shown here.
I don't think it was any one particular object but the hue and proportion of the integrated settings that left a strong impression in me. Here again their being verily distinct from what I've encountered before left me in awe - "wow, I hadn't thought this visual effect was possible. What an interesting feeling it evokes in me". It resonated with a chord in my heart that had long laid dormant and dusty, and I delighted in its discovery, for ushered new possibilities and freedom. Somehow through seeing the artifact it feels as if I've been allowed a glimpse in the mind of its creator.
Personally, I see art as the ordering of elements (tangible or otherwise) by the artist, that when perceived through our senses (sight, touch, sound, etc.) creates meaning of some sort - it may be a feeling, a sense, a narrative, an inkling, or a perspective; the most powerful of them inspires insight or some form of appreciation. The Islamic art pieces for instance, piqued my interest in Middle Eastern culture and history - a welcome perspective given the narrow and often negative connotation as portrayed by popular media in the our society. It is a first step toward understanding.
Perhaps in that way, art can be powerful and practical, too. Kings have built great monuments for the express purpose of subduing their subjects and projecting power. For thousands of years, religion and art seemed joined at the hip. With the rise of the machines since the industrial revolution, these once ugly and beastly things are starting to be given considerations of form as well as function. The rise of the Bauhaus and Industrial Design helped to make the mechanical more natural, and the mass produced more intimate. A redesigned pair of goggles decreased Iraqi solders' eye injuries because the they were made more aesthetically pleasing and the wearers are more keen to use them. Sometimes art makes the unbearably gruesome into the poignantly thought provoking, providing just enough emotional distance for strength to take action, yet enough closeness to examine the issue critically, like the photographers who took pictures of the dreadful living conditions of the New York City slums decades ago that led to legal reforms for the lives of the poor.
In the context of discussing what constitute art, I wonder if it's also beneficial to ponder on the subject of doing something "artfully". Jonathan Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple, had said that good design is about care for the product and the users of the product, that design should seek to be of service to its user. Conversely, bad design comes often from carelessness as it disregards the needs and wishes of its consumer. In that view, a teacher who prepares 10 hrs for each hour of lecture can deliver just as beautiful an experience as an art piece, in my view. I would also call some of the writings I’ve read on the KW Hungry Mind blog art pieces, too. Are they art? Maybe not. But they benefit me much the same way an art piece does. Anna Wintour, Chief Editor of Vogue, had often said of fashion design and photography as about having a point of view. Perhaps in art, it matters less whose view should prevail, but that it exists and is wholly ours.