The assumption behind the question “what’s the point of art?” is often utilitarian. There is no inherent worth of art so it must do something to justify itself. While the philosophy itself has its flaws – is everything a means to an end, always? – we must tackle the question on those terms.
And I have found a good answer from visual artist David Watson Hood’s lecture in 1998.
He says artistic and scientific creativity both “evolve descriptions of the world that are more enabling than pre-existing interpretations”.
What does that mean? Art simply enables us to describe the world – is that all? The descriptions are all so different and contradicting and confusing. It is no dictionary definition of the world, no objective verification of real life. If we use art as a tool to discover truth – of the world or, more likely, ourselves – then we end up here:
“How many geniuses have wasted their potential because they chose to search for truth via art (a completely forlorn hope, by the way) rather than via science, the most reliable way to truth (though nowhere near 100% reliable)? Frankly, I feel that the time I spent on art (reading about it, experiencing it, even trying to do it) in my youth was misspent).” – from a forum on the sciences.
This questions the point of the entirety of human culture. Animals use violence and/or sex to order and make sense of their worlds and while our closer relatives may use rudimentary tools, we are the only animals to have a complex conceptual or material culture.
So if animals do not need one, the question is how has it benefited us as a species?
The psycho-biological explanation
We need advancements in material or conceptual culture because it provides for our desire for comfort and security. Whenever we gain power over resources – through ideas, understanding and abilities – it appeases our insecurities; but it is brief.
We quickly become accustomed to increases in our power over our environment and we need continual advancement to cope better with the changes and developments around us. In addition, our own advancements change the environment and present new challenges.
And so culture provides us with the advantage of greater adaptability. It explains where there are so many of us (and growing!) all over the Earth.
But do we need it?
…More next week!!