Why Men Need Art

The word "art" is used so often and so loosely, it seems it can be applied to anything at all. A word that can be used to describe anything, though, is a word that has no meaning. To derive the meaning of the word, we must first explore what human need it fulfills.

Man is a conceptual being. He thinks not only in specifics, but in abstracts. To gain further knowledge of the world, he builds abstracts on top of abstracts. Each step higher brings him a wider grasp of reality.

Each step also takes him farther from the clarity that comes from direct perception. This is not to say that his abstractions are false. If his use of reason is vigorous enough, the abstractions will correspond to reality. The difficulty is in then using the abstractions for further reasoning.

Concepts are integrations of particulars. They can be formed through integration of perceptions directly, or they can be formed through abstractions of other concepts. The second route, while producing valid concepts, does not require the perception of the particulars. They are induced, but need not have been directly perceived.

This brings us to the crux of the problem. Many abstracts lack the immediacy of those based on perception. The higher the level of abstraction, the more difficult it is to fully grasp it. Art is the tool that makes it possible to grasp complex abstractions.

Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands