“True happiness involves the full use of one’s power and talents.” – John W. Gardener

This page will explore what it means to be an artist. There is an artist inside us all. When we take the way of the artist, expression is experienced deeply, meaningfully.

The Artist and the Beholder

Art offers the beholder a sense of wonder, awe and inspiration. It can also allow us to feel lost, angry and sad. The ability to evoke such emotions and feelings depends on a number of factors. Sometimes it necessitates a holistic understanding of the world, cultural knowledge and experience, etc. In general, according to the I-SKE Model from Arthur Shimamura’s “Experiencing Art,” the first step is the Intention behind the artist’s expression. Then there are three distinct features for the beholder: sensation, knowledge and emotion.

A painting can trigger highlights in the whole brain. A story told on stage might evoke a visceral response. A poem might give you a sense of place. In this section, we’ll look at a few acute examples of artistic expression. We’ll explore how a person can truly be artistic. And what exactly makes something expression in a digitized world? And most importantly, what sense of meaning are you able to gain as a beholder of such an experience?

What Is Art?

Art has played a major part of every culture. Neurologically, it helps us to normalize our lives. It’s specific to our species, and has even played a major role in human survival. But in a more general sense, let’s begin to ask the big question: what is art for?

Through elaborate carbon isotope analyses, scientists found that charcoal was used in prehistoric cave paintings more than 30,000 years ago in Chauvet of Southern France. In “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” director Werner Herzog explores the Chauvet Cave in France and its ancient visual art.

Drawings from the Chauvet Cave, Public Domain photograph from the film, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”. (Watch: Youtube)

Art allows us to value and abstractly think about the context of our lives. How does one distinguish a painting from an Instagram post from a cave painting’s intent from 30,000 years ago? Art historians, researchers, authors and artists alike have all tried to make that sharp distinction. What it comes down to may be the intention of the artist which allows the viewer to create their own thoughts and emotions.

Ellen Dissanayake, an evolutionary ethologist (the study of human behavior), wrote about how humans need art to survive in her book, What is Art For? She makes the case for art having four distinct aspects in our cultural expression:

Art makes our lives unique

Art fulfills our desire to make our lives beautiful through aesthetics and their unifying abilities through interactions and even ceremony. Groups in human history that survived longer were those who engaged in artistic ceremonies and gatherings.

Expression makes us feel good

Besides it’s health benefits, art allows us to feel good with ourselves and one another. Human beings love novelty, color, play, rhythm and pattern. It becomes a sensory experience when we engage in artistic expression.

Our lives are ritual

Tibetan sand paintings, Native American totems…cultures express themselves through artistic rituals that carry meaning like these. Sometimes rituals help people transcend their lives and circumstances. Other times it helps to connect with things outside of themselves. This especially applies in the case of relationships with couple rituals.

Sense of community

Social support and resilience are bolstered by the presence of artful living. When you engage in art, it can be deeply personal, involving a community of onlookers. And art can also involve communities themselves, like a theater or dance group. It can be an important psychological recovery and therapy tool.

Watch and Ask

Abstract: The Art of Design

Episode 1 explores the work of illustrator and graphic designer, Christoph Niemann, who stresses the importance of thinking big to come up with as many ideas as possible. He illustrates for the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and is a playful artist who shows us the power of abstraction.

What does it mean to “be a strict editor, but a carefree artist”?

Episode 3 tells the story of stage designer, Es Devlin, who tells us, “I don’t actually make anything or know what to make until I know the space that it’s going to inhabit.” Devlin has worked to create visual experiences with Beyonce on tour, Louis Vuitton, U2 and even Shakespeare performances. She continually asks what the purpose will this feature have? And what will support or contradict the solution that she is trying to solve?

Why could it be important to design this way? How does it help unlock ideas of expression?

Episode 7 features world-renowned photographer, Platon. As a portrait photographer for international publications such as Time Magazine and Rolling Stone, he is able to understand a subject’s story and tease it our visually in his photography sessions.

How much research is necessary before beginning a creative work of expression? Does this hinder creativity or add value to the final work?

Advertising Our Emotions

An Age of Ads

Let’s go back the 19th century in Paris, where Toulouse-Lautrec designed posters for the Moulin Rouge to promote a local Bohemian nightspot. Or how about the 1940s, when Norman Rockwell painted advertisements for Orange Crush and Jell-O. He even helped to promote war bonds during World War II with his “Four Freedoms” series in 1943. He crafted a utopian vision of America, which deviated from the popular abstract expressionism of the time. Recently, there have been efforts to modernize the expression of people who make up the United States.

“Business Art is a much better thing to be making than Art Art.” – Andy Warhol

Before his famous soup cans and pop prints of celebrities, Warhol was one to promote his work through clients like Glamour, Vanity Fair and Schiaparelli. Other personas that were capitalized on were surrealist artists like Salvador Dali who appeared in Alka-Seltzer commercials. We can see their work through a lens of pioneering or debasing, depending on the pair of glasses you wish to put on.

At the end of the day, both advertising and art reflect our culture. They feed off of one another in beautiful and painful ways. Our visual history will always have infused elements of cultural and social trends. How might we be able to express ourselves within a commercial context and be mindful to cultural and artistic integrity? In such a way, we can conceive artistic ideas that will reflect our contemporary society and also bend the arc of advertising in a meaningful way.

How the Light Gets In

“If we are to change our world view, images have to change. The artist now has a very important job to do. He’s not a little peripheral figure entertaining rich people, he’s really needed.” – David Hockney

David Hockney created visual masterpieces like Three Trees Near Thixendale to show us what kind of light we could let in to our lives. Unlike other Pop artists, Hockney’s figurative paintings referenced visual advertising that was steeped in Cubism. He showed us scenes from his own life and immediate surroundings. Hockney used bright purples, greens and yellows to declare his sexual freedom and independence as an openly gay man. Hockney painted our natural surroundings in such a way that advertised and explored the more intimate worlds we all hope to know in ourselves.

David Hockney, Three Trees Near Thixendale, 2007

Moving on, you can either check out our “Inspiring Expressions” page, which profiles a handful of incredible instances of artistic expression.

Or, you can move on to “Forms of Expression”, which provides insight into the many ways (activities, practices, etc.) we can experience meaningful expression in life.