Thursday, March 14, 2013

Art and Humanity: Thoughts from Stephen Freeman

You may remember when Stephen, from evenstephenfreeman, invited me to share my thoughts on knowing and seeking Christ in the quiet.

Now, it is my turn to host Stephen.  His writing is insightful and allows the reader to know him.  It is fascinating to read his thoughts on different ideas and encounters.  Early in February, Stephen wrote about a visit to an art museum with his wife.  It prompted me ask him to write about art.  Everyone has a unique perspective on art, and I enjoy hearing people's opinions on the subject.

I hope you enjoy his thoughts and will enjoy his other posts!
Some people say that art is useless.  My deep love of art brings me to say that I wholeheartedly agree.

Let me explain.  To say that something is “useless” literally means that it is an object which has no use.  But, more often than not, what these people mean when they say that art is useless is that art has no practical use.  It is only for the sake of looking at and provides no practical, realistic, empirically measurable good for anyone’s real life.   An engraving, like the one shown below, cannot be used (at
least not very effectively) as a hammer or as a vehicle, or as fuel, or as anything that pragmatists would consider useful.

So I ask you, what is the "use" of this engraving.  I am an English Major, so I would have a terrific time writing you essays upon essays of what this piece means and the social implications that it holds, but really, what is its use?

Although there may be countless answers to this question, mine is simple.  It makes you think.

It gives you a reason to sit down, stop being so busy, and really thing about the nature of what it means to be human.

I saw this piece, or rather, a reproduction of this piece, while wandering through St. Augustine with my wife Caroline last year.  The artist's name is Frederick Hart, and this particular piece is called "Ex Nihilo" which means "out of nothing."  If you are able to look at this sculpture and not wonder at what it means to be alive and human, I wonder at your capacity to be amazed by beauty at all.

"Ex Nihilo" by Frederick Hart
My favorite part about this piece, and about art in general, is its complete lack of practical use.  Because if it had a practical use, it would always be in danger of being reduced to that ability.  A car, for example, is a masterful piece of genius.  Open the hood of your car while it's running and marvel at the complexity of moving parts, all working in perfect time with one another, exploding and moving with fire and water and smoke and air.  This is a work of art, but it is, more often than not, reduced to its ability to transport you from point A to point B, while playing your favorite music.

So, I am glad that art is only art and has no practical use.  This, combined with its ability to make a person think and genuinely marvel at the world we live in, is its greatest quality.  I am so truly glad that art is useless.

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