What is Art?

A decent article on evolution and art (and artists).

Before reading this I felt that “peacock‚Äôs tail” combined with theories of evolution of altruism/cooperation combined with “spandrel” (which is limited as stated; we need to invoke exaptation very early on as well), all taken together, created an explanation I was satisfied with. Or rather, provided enough material such that I believed an explanation (of any complexity, perhaps not even expressible-via-language complexity) could be formed drawing from all of these; that belief was satisfactory.

[ In thinking about many things what stands out in my mind is how limited words are for talking about things which are obviously due to a combination of many things, and how attracted theorists are to “simple” explanations.

If any one phrase is worthy of being attributed to me some day, I want it to be this:

No thing is ever only one thing.

Let that guide our thinking. ]


To me art is:

  • a form of thought, as is speech/words
  • communication: “this is what I am feeling / thinking / understanding”
  • showing off we consider valuable and which gives joy/satisfaction to both performer and audience: “look what my mind / my body can do”
  • a more complex form of play

Art can also become or gain significant overtones as:

  • a profession
  • a status symbol
  • money

Distilling this down, roughly art has varying aspects of: money, communication, and play.

A thought I had the other day was that I have trouble when creating art for some project. I’m generally not happy with the result. I do better when I am creating art for my own reasons and which involves no other person/thing (i.e., it’s not “coerced”). I would like to make it a principle of responding to any requests of me to make something specific with this statement:

I only create art for myself.

[ Do my own emotions or thoughts “coerce” me into creating art? No doubt. But then there is selfish purpose in art, which is the creation of understanding within my own mind. So it may be self-coerced, but it is less tainted by the desires of others and more likely to contain meaning. Just as thought itself is self-coerced. And here art-making can be largely an extension of thinking. ]

Chaim Potok touched on this theme heavily in My Name is Asher Lev in describing Asher’s difficult relationship with the commercial art world he nevertheless relied on to survive. I.e., he felt loathing for the idea of his art becoming transmuted into money.

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