Now that Socrates has given us some advice on the advantages of self reflection, we must look how we might philosophise a little better. I think one way we might gain some insight into living better would be to look at other peoples records of how they choose to live or how they suggested we might live. Luckily we are surrounded by these records, they take the form of the very basis of art.
We all drink a little from the fountain of artistic knowledge, all of you will listen to some music, read some literature or even admire some paintings. We often put up artificial barriers between us and “high art” (a term I find disgusting, or at best inaccurate) believing somewhat naively, that these books are too hard for us to understand, paintings have too much depth or that philosophy is something only discussed by the intellectual elite. One thing we tend to lack is the motivation to engage with art considering it something that belongs to other people or something beyond our capacity to understand. I don’t know when we became so afraid of art or became so inadequate with ourselves but here we are many of us are in the height of the information age never observing or discussing art. Marcel Proust had this to say on the importance of art, unfortunately his Opus in search of lost time is 3,700 pages long and he didn’t care much for short sentences-
By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Ver Meer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished.
The quote is long but the message is simple- art helps us to see things in a different way. We should come to art with a simple objective to see art as a perspective and attempt use that information to inform our world view. As you read and digest the above statement isn’t interesting that art invites us to lead the examined life that Socrates talks about? Isn’t even more stunning that art gets us outside ourselves to find truer more objective truths in our own lives? I didn’t have to do a massive case study on Proust's childhood, artistic motivations or even attempt advanced criticisms of the text to make sense of his ideas. One of the marks of a great artist is that he makes his ideas blissfully simple to understand. I don’t want to take away from the field of academic investigations into art for their work is important in furthering our understanding of artists and artistic movements but it worth noting an artist almost never creates a piece purely for this purpose. They create because they make a record of the life they lived and offer something of that knowledge to us. We would be fools to let that go to waste.
Of course for different people there is different art. We all have preferences in styles or subject matter but would invite people to perhaps be a little more open minded to the different artistic forms. Our most popular art form by far is music but I often find that music is almost too good an art form to be a truly effective one because invites us to feel rather than think. Music’s emotive quality has one massive benefit, the ability to make us feel a certain way creates environment in which we gain a great commonality with the people we experience it with, and would speculate that might be why its been the great social lubricant since the dawn of time. Modern art is often considered so irrelevant and the Turner prize often the butt of many jokes but don’t use that as an excuse to doom 10,000 years of artistic expression to the intellectual graveyard. Search and find and develop an artistic palette, we’ve never existed in a more connected age so finding art that we can relate to has never been easier.
Our duty to art is to attempt to make it relevant to ourselves, we don’t need a university education to do that in the same way Socrates didn’t need a university degree to be philosopher he just reflected on what people had to say and we should experience art in the same capacity- simply as invitation to reflect on how another person has chosen to live their life. Its doesn’t take a genius to work out if their path was successful or not and with this added perspective we might be able to make better, more informed choices in how we choose to live our own lives.
Art can be the roadmap to leading a better life, I just wish we spent a little more time learning how to read the map and little less time trying to get to our destinations.