“Art” is probably the most vague term used to loosely point to a skill, creation, sensation or act which is intimately related to experience of beauty. Artistic skill is often considered closer to the heart than to the mind; more right brain activity than the left brain. It is no surprise that word art is used often without fully defining what it means. We “feel” the charm of art but not necessarily “understand” it.
As an artist who is also deeply involved with science, I always wondered what exactly art is. What makes a painting beautiful versus just blotches of paint? What makes a dance enchanting? What makes makes music capture our hearts?
Have you ever wondered about this?
As a self taught artist, my quest has been to know the core principles of artistic skills to be able to master it faster. After watching artists, their art, by practicing art and by deeply meditating on this quest, I have realized following:
Art is the skill of directing attention!
Think about this for a moment. Experience of art is often following; we are going about our business and suddenly something grabs our attention. May it be a painting, graffiti, billboard, movie, flower, blog, news whatever it may be, the initial “wow” factor or pure surprise can grab your attention. A good piece of art grabs your attention and keeps it directed to itself as long as it can. The longer it keeps directing your attention to itself, the greater the work of art it is. Even if you move away, a good piece will linger in your mind, drawing your attention back to it, so as to lure you to experience it all one more time. That is why we want to take closer look to the painting we like, hear the song we enjoy again and watch our favorite movie over and over.
As human beings, we do enjoy our attention being directed through the flow of sensations. The sensations could be sights, sounds, touch or even emotions. Our experience of living is enriched when our senses are stimulated such a way that our attention flows through them in harmony. And to give you such experience is a goal that every artist strives for.
If art is the skill of directing attention, many aspect of our daily experience qualify as art even though we may not see them as such. Advertisements, video games, news and also political campaigns are work of art as they grab and direct our attention. Artists therefore are everywhere, they are practicing their artistic skills in places we think devoid of art like in business or politics.
All artists are like magicians. They capture your attention and direct it to where they want, they make you imagine things that are not there, and they make an illusion feel like reality. That is what a painter does when he gives you experience of a distant, beautiful beach on a flat two dimensional surface. Similarly a political leader makes you believe in a problem or a solution which is not there in reality. The skill is the same, capturing and directing your attention. The difference between work of art and work of deception is only the act of prior disclosure of the intent. When you are going to an art show of any kind, you know the artists will play with you attention to make you see and believe what they want you to see and believe. While other covert forms of art like political campaigns and advertisements are not so forth coming. In former, you sign up for roller coaster ride of attention willingly, in later you are taken in for a ride.
So, art is skill of directing attention! A piece of art will grab your attention and keep directing it within itself as long as it can.
If you sit with this insight for a while, you might get a sense that this whole world, this universe is work of art; forever capturing our attention and directing it within itself. What a mesmerizing work of art this is!