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A Unified Theory of Art1

its nature & psychological origins

by Peter Roberts

note: for the purpose of this essay i shall use the word "art" to include all of the creative arts (e.g.: poetry, painting, mathematics, music, sculpture).

1. The Nature of Art

abstract: Art expresses what cannot be stated.

a. definition

Art is holistic expression of holistically perceived segments of reality.2 As such it is a psychological analogue of mapping functions: it is a way of mapping reality into a specific medium, such as language, clay, or musical sound. However, art is not as limited as this mapping analogy suggests. It is not statement, nor can it be condensed into mere statement. Art, like the reality it expresses, is similar to, & yet is something more than a gestalt.

b. the tool & the hand

Art differs from craftsmanship in that the intent of craftsmanship is to manipulate a given medium to produce an elegant style or beautiful form, while the intent of art is to express reality through a given medium, however beautiful or ugly the result. The artist uses the same tools as the craftsman, but for a different purpose.

c. getting into reality

Minor art expresses only the specifics of reality; each day is different, & so is each artwork. Great art, however, expresses fundamental reality through its specific manifestations. This gives the work of the great artist a continuity which that of a minor artist lacks. For the great artist, each day may be different, but it's made of the same stuff.

2. The Psychological Origins of Art

abstract: You have to be crazy not to be insane.

a. alienation & mysticism

The artist, in order to perceive reality as a wholet cannot, like the ordinary person, be in reality but not consider himself of it. Such people are in touch but out of tune with reality, & therefore have a limited view of it. There are two paths open to the artist: alienation (being neither in nor of reality), which gives a view from outside, & mysticism (being both in & of reality), which provides a unified experience of reality. Both of these viewpoints are considered abnormal by ordinary people.

b. point of view

The mystic artist has a unified view of reality at all levels. To the mystic, however, the details of what he perceives are sometimes indistinct. On the other hand, the alienated artist generally sees only the surface of reality (although he may occasionally dimly glimpse something moving just beneath the surface), but he sees it distinctly & in detail. The best art is produced by artists who are either simultaneously or alternately alienated & mystically immersed. Those who experience these states in alternation might be called "ecstatic depressive".

c. can art be taught?

From the preceding it should be clear that since art results from certain unusual states of mind, it cannot be taught. One who experiences such mental states can be taught technique, or craftsmanship, & will in most cases benefit thereby, but one who doesn't experience such states cannot be made to do so.

1 — © Copyright 1978 by Beyond Baroque Foundation. First published in beyond baroque 782, July 1978 (Vol. 9, No. 2 of Beyond Baroque Foundation Publications), p. 46.
2 — By 'segments of reality', i do not mean only portions of the space-time continuum ('slices of life'). There are innumerable ways of experiencing or conceptualizing reality, & a portion of reality viewed in any of these ways can be expressed as art.

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