In my last post on ‘What is Art?’ I gave some quotes from some prominent artists and thinkers on what they thought art is, as well as the dictionary definition. Below, is how I finished this sentence. It is not a definition and it is not the result of academic research. It is a statement that attempts to express what lies at the heart of the matter.
‘Art is the appreciated expression of something’s nature’
I find this view, has more than anything helped me personally, to better understand art and my own practice. The story behind this statement will help make better sense of it. A good place to start is with what is meant by ‘the art of’
The Art of
Knowing what is meant by the phase ‘the art of…’ gives a valuable insight into what art itself is. There is an art to anything, as illustrated by the titles of three books that spring to mind: ‘The Art of War’, as ancient Chinese military text attributed to Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of Loving’ by Erich Fromm, and the ‘Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert M Pirzig, considered essential reading in my teens. People will refer to the art of any activity you can think of, positive and negative. Often people will use this phrase when talking about technical ability and skills of the highest order in the carrying out a given human endeavour. Skill and technique can take practice to a level that it transcends them and elevates it to an art form. Technique is not a guarantee of artistry and it is not the only way to achieve it. The art of something requires an intuitive understanding of the nature of what is being undertaken. To witness the true art of something is an to experience the nature of something. There are those artists that connect with and understand the nature of numbers, others the nature of a football, and others human behaviour. You can teach technique but an artist will use technique to connect with the nature of what they are doing. They connect directly and this felt response is both conscious and intuitive and not something easily described. Someone may be able to follow the manual but the art lies in responding directly to the way things feel, their character, their nature. It is a conscious and unconscious connection with what is being done. It is what visitors to galleries, football grounds, and theatres hope to see; moments, manifestations and expressions of the nature of things. Whether it is gardening or book-keeping, waiting tables or planning events, there are those who have the understanding and capacity to elevate what they are doing to an art form. When we witness or are part of the art of something we tap into the nature of what is being undertaken in the same way we connect to nature directly. The art of a human endeavour is an expression of nature itself. Let’s not forget that bad things have their own nature; nature is what makes something what it is and that is not always beautiful. A work of art acts as a passageway from us to nature; as in a passage of music, a passage from a book, and so on. This is not always the conscious intention of the artist but occurs in true works of art none the less. I think I am straying off the path a little so to sum up; the art of something is carrying out of a human endeavour through a conscious and an intuitive understanding of its nature, transcending technique and becoming an expression of that nature. Most football fans are familiar with a manager’s plea to those playing the game to ‘go out and express yourselves’, and most people can appreciate that George Best was an artist. Art connects our nature to the nature of something being expressed. In much the same way we have a profound response to nature directly. Small wonder that I have known people to cry in front of a painting or when confronted with the Grand Canyon for the first time. Small wonder also that we prize the opportunity art offers us so highly.
words and image
by Jasper Morley