Thoughts on Art, Part 1

Part of my mind has been on poetry lately, trying to understand what makes good poetry, etc. I have never been particularly drawn to poetry — reading it or writing it — but since so many (intelligent) people are and because it is such an important part of culture, I’ve always wanted to be better at it. I have recently taken up learning poems by heart, so as to improve my memory and vocabulary, and hopefully to gain a deeper understanding of particular poems and poetry in general. Maybe I will comment on some of these poems in upcoming blog posts.

But today, since my mind has been on the question of what and why art is, I went back and found an old notebook where I had ruminated on these questions. I decided to post a couple entries here, just to lay a foundation for how I tend to think about these questions and maybe to be able to trace some evolution in my thought. This one is from a few years ago, and already it seems a bit simplistic and the thought of a younger mind. But I think there are some things worth holding on to, as well. This is what I wrote:

It seems that people are considered to be true artists who have something inside them that needs to get out, and they let it out in a visual or creative way.

Art imitates nature. The sciences try to understand and explain what nature does and how it does it. But it seems that contemporary art does not merely imitate nature anymore. Contemporary artists are really philosophers of sorts who see something in nature and need to point it out. That seems like the goal, anyway. According to my Leibnizian theory, we all are reflections of the universe. But artists and philosophers aren’t content to passively and minimally reflect the universe, they feel the need to examine it and share what they find with their fellow humans. They just do it in different ways. The way I see it (because I am more of a philosopher than an artist) is that an artist has a vague idea that can’t really be put into words, but they understand their ideas through conceptual images. They can express themselves through images better than through words. Maybe they even think that the feelings they feel or the truths they encounter are too complex to be put into words. But philosophers, on the other hand, don’t understand how one or a few images could capture an entire truth. The things they encounter about the world are too complex to not be put into words. But I have a feeling that they both think their way is the better way and that the other cannot possibly understand as much as they do. But these are speculations on my part.

I suppose that puts poets and novelists (and “poetic essayists”) in the middle, maybe in the best position. The problem with art is that if you don’t get it, you don’t get it, and the artist could have something really profound to say, but if it’s too hard to get, then people won’t get it. The good thing about art is that it is quick to observe and it has a universal language. The problem with philosophy is that it is too long and complex and tedious for a lot of people to grasp. The good thing about philosophy is that it’s all there for people to figure out if they want to put in the time. But maybe that’s how artists feel. I don’t know. But a good novel is somewhere in between. It has an interesting story, but it also speaks to the reader and shows him something about himself, humanity, and the world.

But I don’t want to be left out of the art world. I would like to see if I can come to either understand artists’ messages through their art or learn to express my own ideas through art. I feel like at this point I could go either way. I have ideas, but I’m not sure how best to express them. But my ideas are of a more philosophical nature. It seems like a lot of art is of more of a sociological or political nature.


I ended this rant with a slanting and dramatic Je ne sais pas.   .   . and then, “I think it’s time to go to bed.”


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