In its origins, the term “art” was not absolutely distinguished from skill and the application of skill in craftsmanship. This separation, while it allows us greater linguistic precision, ultimately clouds over insights which would otherwise have been more readily available to reason.
Art, in the sense of fine arts, was originally theorized in terms of mimesis, or the imitation and representation of nature. From this one can take a simple step further and posit an art of deliberate replication of certain aspects of nature. Returning to the original compound of the term, one could find an analogue in farming or gardening as the replication of natural goods by knowledgeable application. Already, one should be able to gather stirrings that, though it is largely concealed to modern minds, contemplating our relation to art can give us significant insights into the human relation to the world.
Nature, farming, and gardening are favourite examples and metaphors of mine as well as common subjects for artists in general. This is not simply by chance. The contemplation of nature not only allows us to contemplate our more direct relation to the world and existence, but is significant on more practical terms as well, as the natural environment is also our source of resources including food and building materials.
But art, and craft writ large, has also brought about our separation from nature through mediated devices, tools, and constructions based on principles abstracted from their organic growth in nature.
In order to facilitate thinking about our new constructed relationship to the world, a myth about early human society is in order: In the early times, humanity lived exposed in the landscape. They had not yet developed the techniques to shield themselves from the dangers of the world aside from the exercise of their own physical prowess. Nor could they grow the food needed to survive but instead were forced to set out into the wild and hunt or gather whatever they could find. Those who returned told the others of their tribes about they things they had seen, what to look for and what to avoid. They made drew pictures on the walls of caves to illustrate their meaning to those who listened and preserve the knowledge for successive generations. This, in our myth, is the origin of a formal system of recording and education.
Now we must turn to the central concern of art, which is beauty. Apply this to our consideration of the subject of nature. The most basic characteristic of beautiful nature would be a lush and fertile landscape, the opposite a barren and desolate one, naturally because the one is a supporter of life and the other an image of lack and deficiency. Another common example and subject for art is a fine physical form. The ideal for the human form is a representation of health and strength and harbours the promise of capability. A clumsy or incompetent person is not considered beautiful, unless perhaps because their representation is intended to express a different principle, such as merriment or a desire to bring ease or understanding to those and the community of those who carry heavy burdens and sometimes falter under their weight.
There is a potential for a deeper understanding of art and beauty to transform common world into something greater. In order to illustrate what I mean, I would like to comment on some landscapes and indicate where the potential lies. These are two pictures which have been used to express the potential of environmental cities which integrate nature into built environments:
While I appreciate the intentions, I do not think that these landscapes show the full capabilities which the principles I am discussing entail. Here is a picture of the historical industry landscape built in the early 20th century in a town in Sweden:
My intention in showing the above image is to show that aesthetic principles need not necessarily be divorced from industrial construction. Finally, here is an image of an English landscape garden:
The reason I am showing this garden is because the English, during the 18th century, developed principles of architecture to include consideration of landscape organization, including considerations such as sightlines and harmonizing elements of the landscape. These are principles which are already developed, codified and mathematically reproducible and have been already countless times. Only will and vision has been lacking to combine these principles and even others such as permaculture to form a new kind of landscape.
The reason that I think the human environment is so important is because it is the arena of human life and action. It is in our lived environment, present immediately when we leave our door, that all our potential for being in the world exists.
What I most wish to impart is that the principles of beauty are far from a frivolous excess. What is a frivolous excess is destroying natural habitats for the sake of unbounded accumulation of wealth in the abstract.
Wealth only ever has value in relation to those concrete goods which can be had for our wealth, and as I am labouring to exhibit here, the principle of beauty can account for practical and necessary goods as well those which are good for the spirit or morale.
It is of utmost importance that the immediate association between art and entertainment be severed. True art is capable of illuminating what is truly important to us, whether it be love for our family, union with a beloved, or the passionate pursuit for what one believes in, against odds and opposition.
What must be made clear is that people have power if only they engage with the world directly and do not allow themselves to be passive or passively used to work and expend their effort to shape the world into a state which even they would not desire to see come into being. The value of freedom lies not in the pursuit of empty pleasures but the ability to decide what one feels is important and not be constrained by the arbitrary will of another.
The world is in need of passionate individuals who will take up the burden of fate with courage and determination. Do not despise or pity those who make sacrifices or fail in pursuit of their ideals but see in them instead the purest expression of human potential.
If you liked this post and want more insights on art and beauty, consider reading my previous post The Key to Purpose