What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about "art"? Is it painting? Dancing? Or maybe music? But is it art if I just play some random notes on the piano? Is the intention of producing something enough to call it art? Or does it have to be good? But what is good? Is it enough if someone likes it? If you are as confused as me about this, you're in good company.
As a kid I used to go to all kinds of museums and shows with my mom. I'm not sure I really liked it. I was interested of course, but it seemed I was supposed to love it. When comparing it to my experience playing games, it felt passive and savorless. Years passed and I never considered myself sensitive to art in general. I thought it just wasn't my thing.
Some events made me reconsider. One of them was during a piano recital. Saying that it was amazing from start to finish would be a lie, but I remember a few moments pretty vividly. It was as if the player was trying to express a feeling and I totally got it. Something like a mix of melancholy and acceptance. It felt like there was a direct link between me and him and he was using the music to communicate. I wasn't thinking of anything else, I was just enjoying the experience. I guess this is what art is supposed to feel like.
Having said that, I think the art world is also driven by authority and mimetism. If someone reputable say that something is beautiful, we will convince ourselves that we also find it beautiful. We want to fit in.
But when it's real, what really happens? Is there some deep and absolute beauty out there that artists try to capture? Or is art only subjective? If there is some universal beauty, why can someone get in front of an art piece a lot of people truly love, and feel nothing?
For some kinds of art, a certain amount of knowledge and experience is probably needed to grok it. Like when you taste wine as a kid, hate it, and an adult says your taste buds aren't sensitive enough to appreciate it. Even though people will naturally like some things and not others, I think there is truth in this.
When my friends and I started listening to electronic music, we couldn't get how people could like hard and fast techno. But with time, we we could gradually go from the mainstream stuff to the more niche stuff. We even created some playlists where we organized our discoveries by levels of deepness. We called it Electroducation.
Knowledge and experience can't be the only explanation. You can be amazed by a music piece once and listen to it again the next day only to find it okay. I think it's because we don't always have the same level of awareness. It can be because you missed a good night's sleep. Or you're just concerned about something. Sometimes we can't explain why, we're just subconsciously not in the right mood.
We can't always explain our emotions. But even if you're sad for no clear reason, the sadness you feel is real. If emotions are the expression of something real, an artist can strive to get closer to the perfect representation of that truth. In this way, art is no more than a medium of expression.
Maybe it's why alcohol and drugs have an infamous relationship with art. Sometimes we want to express something but the mind gets in the way. We try to think really hard but we just can't state it clearly. By calming it with substances we can be more intuitive, bypassing the thinking and letting the soul do the talking.
Emotions are not the only thing that can be expressed through art. Sometimes it's about sending a message or sharing a particular culture. Everything can take the form of art. Many books illustrate this idea. Martial arts, programming or chess can give a feeling of awe to people practicing or watching it. In the beginning it's a conscious practice, we're still trying to understand what it's all about. But with experience, top performers go beyond the rules and can then express their individuality through their craft.
Even though I do think some art pieces are objectively better than others, the observer's emotional state is no less important. And for the same person, this changes with time. You can read the same book at different moments of you life and it will probably be a different experience. Because even though the book didn't change, you did.
So if art is really the expression of someone, maybe we can't really split the art from the artist? But what about AI generated art? Are the artists indirectly the people who wrote the AI algorithm? If we can feel at awe in front of the beauty of nature and the universe, why couldn't we feel deep emotions from something created by an AI?
Even if we have minds to think, plan and organize, we are also influenced by our emotions on a deep level. At the core, they are just chemical reactions to make us act in a certain way. But emotions have been a part of us way longer than language. We have to learn to listen to them. We should not be ruled by them, but we also shouldn't try to elimitate them completely.
I am analytical by nature so I tend to overthink stuff a lot. I've been working on my ability to realize it and pause. Meditation helped a lot. By being more present, we can quiet the mind. The balance is hard to find. I used to only listen to podcasts on commutes, but now I sometimes prefer to take a break and listen to music instead. By letting our emotions flow we can feel them better. I used to be proud of never having cried in front of a movie, so it's a big change for me.
When I picture myself in the museums as a kid with my mom, I realize I didn't have the life experience needed to relate to what the artists were trying to say. But more importantly, my mistake was that I was trying to understand art, instead of feeling it.