A Re-creation of Reality

So far, the focus has been on what is the purpose of art. We've seen how our conceptual thinking creates a need for concretization of abstractions. We've seen how normative abstractions in particular require this "bringing closer to reality" so we can use them effectively. The question that remains is, how exactly does art fulfill these needs?

The answer is that it shows us. The goal of art is not to communicate ideas, but to make them visible. It does this by creating a vision of the world, and our role in it. Art does this by re-creating reality.

Art creates an image of the world. That doesn't mean a landscape. It can be pretty much anything. The important thing is that the art says "This is important!". Whatever the subject of the piece, the artist is proclaiming that he thinks that subject is important enough to put at the center of a piece of art. That subject becomes the center of the world created by the artist. Whether the subject is displayed on a canvas, or in the words of a story, or in a symphony, it is the center of the piece of art's universe.

Since the artist is portraying a vision of the world, it should be recognizable as such. By having identifiable elements from the real world, it's better able to show a vision of the world. When no recognizable elements exist, the message the is conveyed is that the world is unknowable, and our minds are impotent to deal with it. Adding realistic elements, grounding the art in the real world, is sometimes called realism.

Imagine a painting of a family picnic. By picking that as the topic, the art says this is what life and the world is like. At a superficial level, this might convey a world of peace and comfort, with loved ones and leisure. It might convey a world there isn't much going on, and simple pleasures are seen as the point of living. I say this is superficial because the art is far more complex than just a choice of subject matter. How it's done can make it convey a very different kind of world.

Let me make a comparison to help clarify things. If an novelists creates an imaginary world of magic and dragons, he's creating an imaginary world. But that's not what is meant by a re-creation of reality. The imaginary world is just a device, and part of the bigger package. The re-creation takes place by seeing what the characters do in that world, how they interact, what kind of goals they have, what kind of obstacles they overcome, etc. The imaginary world is taken as a metaphor, and the other details are seen in relation to the real world.

By re-creating the world, the art goes beyond mere recording of the world. It becomes an embodiment of an understanding of the world. It takes an incredibly complex topic like what do you think of the world or what do you think about life, and creates a clear image of that answer. It's through this means that the art is able to bring our widest abstraction down to a concrete form.

previousLectures Home next