In this short essay I will try to defend why I think art is a form of knowledge and why it is so important to support art and artists, specially, experimental art, that due to its condition is usually unable to generate revenue to support itself.
Our language is our world, however, language is limited. Language is insufficient to explain or express certain phenomena that happens with and within us. When we taste something new, for instance, or when we need to describe a color to someone, we can only use analogies. It is absolutely impossible to convey this kind of sensorial information to other people only through the means of language as we know it. Therefore the sensorial experience that I have when I taste a “Blue sky” flavored ice cream is something so exotic that only I can actually feel it, and no matter how I try to describe it to you and no matter how hard you try to understand that experience, I know for a fact that you are not fully grasping nor feeling it.
There are a serious number of experiences that one has to go through them to actually feel them and to acquire whatever is possible to acquire from them.
I believe that music, in particular, and art in general is a vast universe composed of those kinds of things. Art is deeply connected with our mind and body at the same time. We cannot dissociate them in terms of experience. While we can understand how exact sciences, like maths or thinking processes like philosophizing are deeply rooted in what one would call “mind experiences” that can happen “inside yourself”, “in your mind”, most of the arts have a component linked to embodiment: think for instance about dance and music, or even the feeling of pulse or rhythm or groove. Or when you think about painting and sculpture, the dealing with textures and materials. There is something very physical about the arts that has to enter the equation.
The combination of these two factors is also heavily linked to the experience, perception and recognition of emotions, moods and affects. And this is the main part of it. Art is something that deals with these dimensions, and when we are dealing with them, we are dealing with one of the most important things regarding our definitions as humans.
Art is able to trigger these things (emotions, moods or affects) in people that are totally out of context or unaware of what is happening. Sometimes it is not predictable at all. And it is a very subjective and personal experience that language fails many times to account for.
Therefore most of the times we are dealing with a whole plethora of concepts that cannot be translated into something that can be quantifiable, measured or even conveyed to the other through the meanings of conversation or writing.
I would define the outcome and result of these experiences, these sufferings, as a form of knowledge. These sufferings are something that shape your personality and change your life significantly. Without art your life is poorer. With art, and with many artistic experiences, you earn something that, again, is not quantifiable, nor measurable, neither possible to describe in simple terms. The constant accumulation of these experiences shape your way, and, as any other form of knowledge contribute to make you rounder, a better human being, a more complete human being in the sense that you lived more. You have more insight about the world and other human beings, you are able to know more, you are able to interact better with others, and most important, you are able to feel more empathy towards others.
On the moment you too experience the “blue sky” ice cream you also feel what is it like. And somehow you believe that now you have a better idea of how others feel when they taste it. You may never know exactly how they feel, but you have the ability to empathize with them. So you know more about others and the world. And you also have now access to information to use in the future.
These aesthetic experiences provide you with a new set of tools for creation, for manipulation and for expressing something through objects, analogies or even, new forms of languages that prior to your experience did not exist at all. Therefore they are important. They are a new and useful resource to build new things or to mix with others that already exist to whatever end you pursuit.
Of course, if the idea is to increase knowledge and the basic materials, the building blocks with which you create “worlds”, then it is of extreme importance to push boundaries, to experience and manipulate new concepts. To drag them around and to shape them in new ways. As any other kind of knowledge it is important to play with it, to give space to chance, and to simply use it to see if something good comes out of it, to understand its usefulness, patterns or rules.
So, like any other form of knowledge, it is very important to experience with the arts. Sometimes people don’t understand why people receive money to make up “stupid contemporary art works” or things that make no sense simply because they don’t value them or don’t recognize their usefulness or even they feel threatened and mocked when some work challenges the values of their society or context. Well, perhaps it’s just something that has to be done. It’s a means to a better end. It’s just like trying out different doses of reagent in a lab.
Sometimes one has to experience really strange things, to push boundaries and to see those effects on themselves and on others so we all acquire this knowledge. This kind of non measurable, non quantifiable and ineffable knowledge, that will play with our emotions, moods and affects and that in the end will make us all richer and wiser.
Finally, even if you recognize that there is, in fact, some kind of knowledge associated with the arts, with the mere aesthetic experience, you still might not recognize its boundaries or its practical application given that you feel that it cannot be “mixed” with the “traditional symbolic knowledge” and notations one uses in maths or biology for instance. Therefore you could still question its utility in a pragmatic world.
If you are thinking this way, then you are thinking of yourself as a brain living in a void. For as much as you may understand neurobiology right now we are limited and do not understand all the processes of the brain, consciousness and the flow of life in general. The mere existence of experiences that we cannot express in language tells a lot about our own limitations. And again, our mind does not exist without a body, neither without emotions, moods and affects. So, if there is knowledge associated with the way we interact and empathize with others in general, and that affects and shape us as human beings, and more, interferes constantly in our daily lives with our activities in general, it has to mean something. We may not know exactly how, or how to deal with it exactly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or valuable. On the contrary, it just means we are ignorant towards it, and therefore should explore it further to learn to take the best out of it.