Monday, January 12, 2009

Art as Instinct?

I read this post over at The Frontal Cortex this morning, and I felt the need to blog about it a bit. See, Jonah has reviewed a new book called The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton in which the author tries to claim that art is a function of evolution. As I have said before, evolutionary psychology is bullshit (the explanation post is still in the works). BUT I do believe that art is instinctual. Just for a completely different reason than this guy. 

This is a topic I wrote about in my journal awhile back, so I want to c&p some of that here for your reading pleasure:

From 8-25-08:

"So many of us struggle for a long time just trying to figure out who we are that sometimes we wonder which aspects of us are fluid and which are immutable elements of our essence. We can easily list the things that we like to do, the music we enjoy, and various personality traits that have been spoon-fed to us through pop psychology and our everyday social interactions. While it is true that everything we know about ourselves we learn from others, there are certain things that over time we come to be aware of intuitively. They no longer need reinforcement or validation. These are the things that are impossible to describe. These are the things that comprise our dreams and our nightmares, our hopes and our fears. They are the things of which art and music are made. 

Everyone has art and music that simply speaks to them in such a way that is indescribable. I don’t believe that anyone has ever truly loved a piece of art or a piece of music that went by the wayside with changing and evolving tastes. You cannot rationalize or insert logic into the enjoyment of art or music. You can change appreciation, but not love. No one will ever be able to change my lack of love for Andy Warhol, though they can tell me until they are blue in the face why they think I should love his work. No one can ever talk me out of loving Alice In Chains or Nine Inch Nails. Or, as Pandora puts it, “a minor-key tonality with a vocal-centric aesthetic.” I believe that the feeling you get when you view a piece of art that you find irresistibly beautiful or hear a piece of music that brings you to tears by vibrating your very core, that is when you are truly experiencing who you are. You will not be able to explain it. You will not be able to share it. Those moments are yours alone, and no one else but you will ever get it. A person who has never experienced that feeling has no idea who they are inside.

Literature, as much as I love it, does not have the same effect. It is not sensory. Doing a job that you love, enjoying a hobby, neither these nor similar things can tell you who you are. They can tell you what you do. They can tell you through logic and reason about your likes and dislikes, but they do not speak to your soul."

The point that I was trying to make in my journal was that everyone reacts to art, but only art snobs can "describe" what it is they love about a piece. If you go to an art museum, you are likely to find yourself drawn to certain works as if by magnetism, while others repulse or offend you. But those reactions are highly subjective and vary widely among individuals. Art and music are reflections of WHO YOU ARE - the person inside of you that you cannot describe. That, to me, is the extent to which art is instinctual. It has no survival function, so don't try to bullshit me into believing otherwise. 

Have you ever LOVED a work of art or a piece of music to where it quite literally moves you? Have you ever then shared that work with your significant other, who then says "I don't get what's so great about it?" 

It arises within you a feeling of being dumbfounded. We respond by saying, "How could you possibly NOT love this???" and we stare at this person like they're an alien being. But what we are really saying is, "That is ME - and if you love ME, how could you NOT like this?" and it feels almost like a betrayal, a sign of profound misunderstanding. 

People get really pissed when someone insults or otherwise derogates their art and music preferences.  It feels like an incredibly cutting insult and we tend to immediately go on the defensive - "Well, you just have NO TASTE!!!"

In my experience, growing up with a grandmother who is a professional painter, the creators of the art and music are not as attached to their work as the viewers and listeners are. They see imperfections where we see beauty. 

To be sure, some people collect art for the sake of collecting art. They view art as an opportunity for investment. But most of us aren't like that. Sure, we'd all love to own an original Picasso or Monet - but that's more about having it as a status symbol than actually loving the work. 

When we love a piece of art, we want to own it because we feel like it BELONGS to us, like it was meant for us all along. Art and music, I think, are the only things in life that truly arouse that feeling in us. It is instinct, to be sure, but it is instinct in the sense of wanting to know ourselves - that human condition of feeling isolated in the world and perpetually seeking out connections. Art and music allow us to connect with our pure, inner selves. 

THAT is the reason for art. Evolution has nothing to do with it. 

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