Lets talk about the purpose of art for a little bit

I was reading Saul Bellow’s Nobel Lecture (which is the best Nobel lecture I’ve read besides Faulkner’s IMHO) and found this line to be interesting “The intelligent public is wonderfully patient with them [writers], continues to read them and endures disappointment after disappointment, waiting to hear from art what it does not hear from theology, philosophy, social theory, and what it cannot hear from pure science.”

Brackets are mine of course.

Bellow’s belief that art can convey things about the human condition that science can not is one of my beliefs as well; but it is only belief and it may only be partially true or just flat out wrong.

Is it the purpose of art to convey things about the human condition that can not be conveyed in any other way?

Is it even possible to convey things that “pure science” can’t?

And if there is nothing that “pure science” can not convey then is art simply a waste of human energy?

Certainly it is possible. Whether it is often done, is a question not germane to this thread. But many people have referenced the distinction between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge,” sometimes under different terminology, in various discussions here: the idea that one can be aware in a compartmentalized, intellectual way, of some issue, but not have it affect how one feels. Contrariwise, an emotionally-based certitude may be impervious to the effects of information that might tend to suggest it to be in error.

Art – good art – has the capacity to bring a message home to the heart, in that sense.

There’s a fantastic amuont **pure science ** cannot do. One of the biggest is make any sort of value judgement. I see people every day handing their judgement over to science. They never see that science, in its myriad forms, cannot fill the hole left by their thrown-away values.

You appear to presume, I believe incorrectly, SB, that the values of those who base their views on the conclusions of the sciences are not “true values.” Rather, they are values based in demonstrable fact and properly derived theory (in the true sense of the word), rather than founded in tradition or metaphysical certitude.

It is purely annoying to people who disagree with the evangelical/neoconservative standard to have that group arrogate to themselves the exclusive use of the term “values.”

And in any case, the issue is the value of art in putatively communicating in ways that pure factuality cannot, not the question of whether science can or cannot take the place of what you term “values.”

Incorrect. They’re using axioms, but ones which they do not understand, recognize, or examine.
For example, science says that some people naturally enjoy killing people. (No, I am not saying that science or even scientists say this, nor that this is an accurate proposition.) There are people who would say that, because of this, those who kill people and enjoy it are not morally incorrect and might not even be criminally guilty.

What they do not understand is that they have just jumped from their hiden axiom to a moral value, without examining that axiom. Here, that axiom is that a biological *tendency * makes the moral action into an amoral action. Or, alternatively, that taking pleasure in killing makes it morally neutral. (But I suspect people hold the former over the latter.) Few issues are this dramatic, but the basic operation is the same.
Science cannot make a value judgement; by definition, that is up to humans. Science cannot tell us what is right, because it does not seek to answer the questions of right and wrong.

Since I’m not really either, this line just sort of sailed off into nowhere.

But one can infer values from the data and inferences of science. As a trivial example, it is not immoral not to develop the skill of flying by flapping one’s arms, since this is (on Earth) a physical impossibility.

Yeah. It was not directly addressed to you, but was a sort of “if the shoe fits” comment, on an attitude I’ve seen a lot of in other places than SDMB.

“What can be explained is not poetry” - Yeats

“A poem should not mean, but be.” – MacLeish

I am not sure that art has a purpose. I am not sure that it has to. What is the purpose of feeling good when the sun is shining?

Is that the realm of evolutionary biology (or is it anthropology)?

If one takes purely materialistic POV

oh yeah who says art is here to make as feel “good”

It wasn’t me. Unless you think the purpose of the sun is to make us feel “good.” People make art, people respond to it. People make art to make money, to express their feelings, to cause others to think and respond in certain ways … and just because they’ve got a knife and a piece of wood in their hands and what else is there to do?

Why should i care about what other people express?

Sometimes it does, but not always I think.

Sitting on a beach, in the middle of nowhere, scribing lines on the sand, and lining up pebbles in ways that show the mark of a human hand.
Is there a purpose to that? No one will see it. Time will erode it. It’s just something that some people do. Cats purr, people art.

I’ve got to go with SB on a technicality here, Poly. While I agree with you that people who do science do have ‘values’ (God help me) I also agree that science itself (the method) makes no value judgements on the truth it reveals.

Or, to quote Ian Malcolm in (again, God help me) Jurassic Park “Science can tell us how to build a bomb but it can’t tell us not to use it.” (paraphrased).

For me? Art is one of the more useful, but inherently limiting, things that make being human worthwhile.

Art should, at it’s best (some very small percentage of the time) allow us to better understand ourselves and others.

Example: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones on their album ‘Let’s Face It’ have a song called ‘Nevermind Me’. The narrator has just been mugged. He’s upset and phyically hurt (he’d been pistol-whipped). But what he focuses on it pity for the junkie mugger.

“What was taken I won’t miss or I’ll replace. Nevermind me…I’m all right.”

In effect the Bosstones turned what could be a simple story on it’s head and showed more than one side of empathy in it. That’s art.

I am an artist, and I must say that there can never be one single “purpose” that applies to all art. But one thing that I can be sure of is that it’s impossible to separate art from values.

There are many differences between art and science, the most important being that art is expressive, rather than descriptive. A scientist’s purpose is to observe and identify specific facts of reality and their relation to other observable facts. His own personal values might influence which facts he chooses to study, but should never influence the conclusions he reaches regarding those facts (the Uncertainty Principle notwithstanding).

But an artist can’t help expressing his values in his art, because he’s not simply objectively reporting on reality, he’s filtering it through his own unique mind – and often creating an entirely new reality from scratch. Art is, by its very nature, expressive and selective. Each work states (or implies) a certain intent, which is based on the artist’s particular values. And to further complicate things, the person who experiences the art will filter it through his own values, which may be very different from those of the artist.

So, in short, the artist’s intent might be to decribe “what is important” or “what is beautiful” or “what is funny” or “what is possible.” But the scientist’s intent is simply to describe “what is.”

This is a huge simplification of an immensely complicated subject.

Art is art. Science is what it is.
Someday art and science will merge. Hopefully religion also.

Quantun theory anyone?

I’ll agree with this, although contrary to what (I think) smiling bandit is trying to say, it’s more often those who don’t understand science who try to impose moral values on it, rather than the other way around. For a good example, look at the reaction to the Kinsey report, where an ostensibly objective study of human sexuality was attacked as immoral because its results were displeasing to the moralists. How often are evolutionists attacked as immoral because their scientific inquiries conflict with religious teachings? Saying the Earth is billions of years old is not a moral stance, but some people insist on interpreting it as one.

I say, with very little to back me up other than the time I’ve spent reading and writing, that the arts – at least writing, but perhaps music or the visual arts – exist to communicate an emotion. If art accomplishes its goal, the audience should feel something close to what the creator intended. There is craft involved, so what the creator feels is not necessarily the same as what the creator intends. I may be stewing in a slow rage about an issue, but write an uproarious satire to make you laugh at my opponents. I may be in love, coolly, with a woman, but write longingly about the spikes of passion that come when I see her – again, the audience should feel what I intend rather than precisely what I feel during the act of creation.

This is why I dismiss a large volume of modern arts that require the audience to “decipher” the work, or consider it in the “context of an oeuvre” or what-have-you. Unless the artist intends for me to experience confusion, then as an artist, I feel that the work fails. I can appreciate abstract art as an aesthetically pleasing combination of colors; I can definitely appreciate nude photography or sculpture :wink: ; however, works like “Piss Christ” strike me as nothing but trolling – the artist is co-opting and juxtaposing several well-established symbols (Jesus = purity/deity, Piss = filth/waste/degradation) and basically counting on our shock. I’m not particularly shocked because the work doesn’t draw me in, doesn’t have any real “artifice” to it – and so I consider the work a failure (and also an exercise in poor taste).

I’m sorry. I really don’t understand what you mean by this.

That happens, too. But also consider the following.

Say we find that pedophilia is a completely genetic abberation. You are attracted to little girls/boys if you have the wrong genes. This does not, IMHO, make pedophilia into a moral-neutral act. You do not have to follow your desires.
Back to the OP, I agree with Jurph. Art, fundamentally, is communcation. If it fails to manage this, it fails as art no matter how good. Art which is pretty but communicates nothing is not art. Note that what it communicates doesn’t have to be deep or exotic, but it needs to be clear.

This is where modern art keep sgoing astray. Too much (but not all) of it winds up saying nothing that anyone comprehends.