Art. What is it Good For? Absolutely Everything!
Art is often perceived as an activity that a few partake in, a very few make money from and merely a sprinkling are famous for. So let’s dig a bit deeper:
What is art?
Art is a culmination of imagination and skill, expressed and implemented, often the result of years of practice, but sometimes spontaneous and naive, sometimes representing the thoughts and desires of the creator and sometimes the patience and expertise.
Where can we find it?
Art, in its forms can be found everywhere: parks, buildings, films, fashion, food, products, murals, music, rhetoric, prose, dance... ad infinitum. It is a manifestation of self and society everywhere and in everything. While it is seen to be indicative of levels of evolution and wealth it is also a means to speak to and from the spirit and the conscious self. Art is another dimension beyond the world we know.
How do we see (or otherwise perceive) it?
We are genetically designed to perceive beauty in that which functions well and is healthy. This is often signified in nature by symmetry, order and organisation which we can find in every living organism from a leaf to the human body. (1) We notice and find this in many forms of art whether it be in music, construction, paintings, poetry or in any physical expression such as ballet. Our senses are triggered by stimulus and art manipulates this fact by design (or chance).
What good does art do society?
Research shows that even without an art education, looking at art involves areas of the brain that process emotion, prompts contemplation and activates our pleasure and reward systems. (2) It fuels emotional response such as when architecture affects the psychology of the space users who may find themselves enticed to shop, or pass by quickly, or eat, or revere, or feel national fervour and many other responses which are sometimes even the inadvertent result of the application. Different genre and form can soothe and inspire or challenge and provoke. Art is a powerful tool that can incite societal and ethical change yet is tragically underused in terms of invoking a positive society. For instance art manifest in music and film is often the vehicle for expression of extreme violence to the point that we find multiple shooting and stabbings normal, where as the sight of nurturing affection or the nude form is a rarity. This portrayal fuels our perverted perception of fundamental human nature, this can be reversed. Transcending the barriers between us and even time, art can divulge a deeper understanding of each other and the past.
What good does art do the artist?
Science proves that creating art induces mental clarity, enhances problem solving capacity, improves long term memory and psychological health and it prompts the release of dopamine; it actually makes us happy! During my artistic process whether a painting, sketch or a spatial design I become an arm, an eye, a creator, I connect in a way that makes me more than an observer. I seem to open up, absorb and transmit. The sensation is of a totally legal and productive form of high!
If an artist can achieve a state of Flow (3), a high level of productivity and happiness can be reached. Time becomes irrelevant and it is as if an inner eye of clarity emerges along with a sense of control and a lack of self-consciousness. According to research, those that achieve this level of Flow are often found to carry the trait of being persistent and minimally self-centered or neurotic; they are also motivated, curious and are inclined to be highly conscientious.
Art: for oneself and the greater good.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs states that our foundation requirements are physiological, shelter and security, (Basic Needs) then comes social aspects such as being loved and belonging, then satisfaction of our self esteem and at the top is Self Actualisation (the gratification of our capacity for development and creativity). It was put to me that this should be flipped upside down (4). Indeed art is an intrinsic part of Flow and Self Actualisation which are seen as end goals; however without these functioning at our core we lack the vital motivations and characteristics needed to repair the broken perception of our Basic Needs. This, far from altruism is elementary to the healthy survival of the whole and the birth of Nurture Culture. Art is not a luxury of society but an essential key stone!
How can we justify allocating time?
The many benefits aside, the process of creating art also affects our perception of time, but let’s ponder deeper; what if time itself can be reconceptualised? Beyond simply valuing quality over quantity, maybe a creative, nurturing connectivity can enable us to transcend time and space as we presently know it. (Doesn’t such ponderance tickle your brain?) What about the pain of creating art?
Having waxed lyrical about the upsides I can’t deny the excruciating, torturous frustrations that are suffered at times by us perpetrators of art. A painting or design stuck in quagmire causes the darkest of moods. Obstreperous outbursts and emotional volatility are often constants in the repertoire of us artists. We are not always the best company while in our creative zones. Cooking food that feeds or doing work that earns make elementary sense, yet most artists have to struggle to allocate the necessary time that our disciplines require. Art often seems too decadent and too elitist, and those of us who advocate art as an essential part of humanity as well as the main cog in all kinds of progress have to yell (or paint large canvasses!) to be heard.
Cross Pollination The arts, design, sciences, philosophy and all forms of creative thinking are intrinsic to each other. Many vocations share a foundation in the artistic process and any contemplation that takes someone outside of an existing box and beyond knowledge parameters to new concepts has its roots in art. If I pick some of the greats in their field at random; Einstein, Darwin, Socrates, Gandhi, Martin Luther King we can see that each is a creative genius in their own right and able to step beyond existing limitations because of freedom within their essence. I can't verify that these people practiced art per se, but I'm sure that their creativity is a form of art.
Why is art not more prevalent?
How can it not be despite proven facts such as schools allocating extra time to music and drama induce spectacular improvement in academic achievements? One can only speculate that the present system prefers we keep consuming, remain passive and lack means to excel. It is no coincidence that oppressive regimes eliminate the arts at the outset. It is through art that people expand, express themselves, connect and find ways to break through the boundaries of the present. Art is both instinctive and cognitive; it communicates, heals and is the essence of our collective and individual human experience.
So enough said; Let us get on with some!
Easy ways to get art and creativity into your life:
Make time and don’t fear creating art: music, pottery, collage, attend local workshops.
Start: instead of just following people on Instagram or Pinterest give yourself 30 minutes to sweep through the projects and ideas you’ve saved then screenshot the one(s) you pick (and unless you can control your urge to peruse more of other people’s endeavours, try deleting the apps!) then enjoy doing some art and crafts of your own.
Involve kids: help them to enjoy and express themselves through art.
Keep it Sustainable: upcycle and recycle so art can be good for the environment and affordable. For instance instead of buying a new plastic mermaid doll we chose to upcycle an old one. We created a tail using tin foil around the legs and some metallic tape. My child has stopped pestering me for a plastic toy castle since we made our own; she experienced all the fun of creating three dimensional art and was allowed free rein with my acrylic paints. You can make modifications to any of your kids toys to satisfy their temporary phases and interests and though this is not fine art it is certainly a foray in to the realm of creativity.
Combine art with whatever makes you happy: I combine nature by both capturing it in my paintings (whether it be the human form, trees, the historic skyline, the sea...) but also I collect found objects like shells and pebbles and incorporate them into my paintings and my home decoration.
Support artists: buy art and crafts.
Go to live performances (theatre, concerts etc): Share the experience with the performers and the audience.
Listen to music at home: let it inspire you.
Pay for films and music: illegal downloads are draining creativity out of the system.
Visit galleries: make life extra dimensional.
Petition: for art to be installed in our common areas such as parks and malls.
Good luck with bringing art into your life and making the world a better place in doing so!
(1) Scientist Brian Goodwing and the “principle of maximum efficiency and least effort”
(2) Neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian. This is Your Brain on Art
(3) Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
(4) Millard J Melnyk. Patternist and Provocateur.
Painting: Jodie Harburt. Ali & Seagulls.
Castle and Mermaid: Jodie and Mia age 4.
Arches and Light, Grafitti, Dressed Tree: Faye Harburt
Scuplture: Carole Turner