Art has never had, and even today, it lacks a definite and authoritative definition. A disparity of definitions of art is what is the only credible and constant fact. If it suddenly happened that we exhausted our discussion of characterizing art and ended with an undisputed definition, then art will become science. However, without art, human life would be flat, dull, and an unappealing process. Art born through the course of humanization of man will remain arguable as long as man continues living and surviving on earth. 

Ten thousand years are not even an instant in universal timeline. However, during the last ten milleniums, the varying forms and kinds of art that man has created have explored and asserted his unrefutable and inalienable value. Such value of creativity differentiates humans from animals, and it guarantees that man continues on his journey towards higher levels of dignity, virtue and integrity. In other words, art humanizes man.

Through different centuries and in different geographies, although the definition of art as described by different nations has been diverse, the common thread of these definitions has been the linkage of the ‘understanding of art’ to the ‘notion of beauty.’

Both man and animal live in nature and their major challenge is survival. However, if the animal lives in order to secure its survival and procreation, man struggles to live and survive with beauty. This is where creative life begins. This is where art is born and man is humanized.

Beauty existed in nature since time immemorial. Man tried to correct beauty and improve on it through creative endeavor. He bestowed upon himself that unalienable value, untouchable in essence, and at the same time free of the pressures of any other material or moral values.

In the ancient world, the concept of beauty brought with it, implicitly, a definition of art that often had irrevocable rules considered of divine origin. Although these rules limited the freedom of the creator, the latter, motivated by a desire to be in the realm of the divine and immortal would ascribe superhuman and divine properties to his creative product. In ancient China, Babylon, India and especially in Egypt, art is characterized by its transcendental and monumental nature that aspires to the divine realm.

When the ancient Greeks realized that it was not possible to be divine and immortal through the sublime approach, they brought down their gods to the human stage and developed an "intimacy” with them. They put together an art that despite being idealized is more human, beautifully elegant, noble and alive.

Rome became even closer to life and more practical. The Middle Ages, reliant on divine inspiration, emphasized spiritual life, thus departing from the worldly, and molding an understanding of art subject to rules defined from higher-up. The age of Renaissance destroyed these molds, and returned art to life, changed the world and created a new art fitting the human spirit, an art consistent to the temperament and era of the time with new definitions and theories. In late Middle Ages and especially after the 18th century, these definitions of art started to fall apart. Came the impressionists and their advent speeded up a process of getting rid of theories and moving towards creative freedom. This was followed by a series of ‘ism’s (sometimes even occurring in parallel). Today, definitions of the concept of art are almost absent from contemeporary creative life. Art seems to have reached an uninhibited and anarchic state, just as it was in the primeval days.

In prehistory, if the fascination with beauty and the emotion of fear were the driving forces of life, then the search for and expression of the inalienable human value remained an objective and a target. However, all these happened subconsciously and within the primordial sphere. The study of primitive culture convinces us that the subconscious of the prehistoric man was not less rich, less varied and multi-faceted than that of its modern counterpart. Surprisingly, we find, in primitive culture, the major ‘ism’s that exist today – starting from symbolism and surrealism to that of the abstract and absurd. In the prehistoric rituals there are very interesting conceptual creations and even performances & happenings.

In prehistory, the unexplained phemomena of nature, especially those that were fearsome rendered life absurd. Today, the unexpected calamities of nature, the irrational wars, the economic crises and the social evils have also rendered life absurd. And as in the prehistoric ages, today the sense of the absurd is expressed instinctively and from the depths of the subconscious. However, without leading to worthlessness or nihilism.

Today, in many cultural environments, the focus of art, whether directly or indirectly is the search for the incontestable human value. The lack of appreciation and particularly the neglect of that inalienable value violates life’s equilibrium and dynamics, standards are changed and undermined, contradictions are magnified and man gets trapped in a swamp of humiliation; making wars and destruction unavoidable. Man continues to survive and create in the irrational flow of absurd life and the artists, willing or unwilling are driven to the extreme and the bizarre; to the absurd.

During the last decades, the definitions and concepts of art have begun to lose their philosophical content and broader aesthetic value, and have been transformed into non-significant elements of the creative process. Every artist, in particular those aiming at being absolutely free and original is aiming to create his own "ism”. Even, there are artists who ‘create’ first and then try to formulate an appropriate ‘ism’ for their work. These do not always succeed. However, would their so-called theory of art be justified under the label of creative freedom?

Contemporary art is characterized by unusual, unconventional and extreme expressions. Although competition and materialism have some role in this process, essentially, this springs from current circumstances of life …

Engaged art tries to save something by deepening life, making it more complex and posits man to face human responsibilities. Driven by greed, violent expressions in life move on without any obstacle, and these find very deep echoes in art and are trying to deface human standards and humane values.

Vincent Van Gogh, following an in-depth analysis and a lot of suffering comes to the conclusion that "Art is life plus nature”. If we try to broaden a little this definition, we can state, " Art is the portrayal of human values in life and the search for beauty in nature.”

In the prehistoric era, man covered his nudity in stages. Today man has started to remove his cover and move towards nudity. But the fact is that, man has also started to get naked spiritually and like the primitive man, he is confused and anxious by fear and terror, particularly in the Eastern part of the world.

Consonent with contemporary life, we are witnessing the emergence of directions in art that are of more long term value. Although, these expressions are almost devoid of depth and content, they represent a certain external beauty, and rather than making it more complex, they lighten up and simplify human life and the quotidian. This kind of decorative art fits the temperament and taste of a large portion of the new generation.

However, on the other side of the coin there is the artist-creator, who is suffering and in crisis mode, and who is getting immersed in life’s entanglements, vicious customs, and complex situations. By identifying these latter situations and realities as anchors of truth, he drives man towards humanization, dignity and majesty. Here is where the creative process of the struggle for salvaging the human and the beautiful is initiated.

If previously, it was believed that art or beauty will save the world, today both art and the search for beauty need to be ‘saved’, reformed and organized according to the tenets of contemporary life. "Art is the portrayal of human values in life and the search for beauty in nature” is not true for all artist-creators. For many artists art is the portrayal of human values also outside of life, and the search for beauty outside nature as well. Here the artist-creator is in a state of absolute freedom and an anarchic environment emerges in the world of creative life. However, this does not mean that art is heading in the wrong direction. It is the obligation of the artist moving ahead of his time, to respond to inner judgment. It is to be noted that decorative, as well as extreme and ultra-abstract art are equally appreciated and valued by museums, art critics and by art-lovers.

If something is wrong, then it is our contemporary life that has come out of its natural tracks and seems to have entered absurd and unruly realms. Just like it was in the prehistoric era.
Movses Zirani
(Dr. in Arts)
1705 reads | 28.05.2013

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