Tag: art

Philosophy: The Forgotten Framework

Kevin Damato | @KevinCDamato

Philosophy is one of the most overlooked fields of intellectual study. You attach your own personal philosophy to nearly every decision you make, whether it is conscious or subconscious.

It’s a thought-provoking topic that yes, you can try to ignore, but no, will not be able to escape. Inevitably after accepting philosophy as an everyday feature of your life the question of which philosophy to follow arises.

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Are You Getting Enough Awe in Your Experiential Diet?

Craig Axford | United States

It is good that we have acquired so much knowledge of ourselves and our environment. Though there is still an immeasurable chasm standing between what we currently understand and all there is to know, we have come a long way.

But it is a tight rope we walk. Between learning about a thing and experiencing it there is a fine line. Perhaps the ideal is the perfect blend of artist and scientist; a fifty-fifty split right down the middle between understanding the physical mechanics of the phenomenon being observed and the childlike wonder evoked naturally by the encounter. I prefer to think it’s the tension between these two ways of being in the world that’s critical to living life to its fullest.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Walt Whitman

Awe lies at the intersection between understanding and bewilderment. It is neither and it is both. Overcome at once by immensity, power, mortality and beauty, the reality of our insignificance and lack of anything more than the slightest influence upon the universe becomes impossible to ignore. There is a kind of grasp of the real situation that comes with awe that is at once true and immeasurable. To understand geology and paleontology as you sit upon the rim of a cliff that has been hundreds of millions of years in the making —  that you are in fact resting upon the uplifted floor of an ancient seabed — adds character and depth to the experience. Deep time is thereby added to the present picture as your sense of connection expands beyond contemporary life to creatures long since extinct.

Though still understudied, there is an emerging science of awe. This research does not presume to reduce the experience to its essence (a futile exercise if ever there was one). Rather it seeks to describe the effects the experience has upon us. It turns out, as one might expect, that awe is pretty darn good for us.

For one thing it alters our sense of time, effectively slowing things down and bringing us into the present moment. Experiencing awe also increases empathy and altruism by enhancing our sense of interconnectedness.

“Awe doesn’t just inspire ethical behavior. Recent studies suggest that experiencing awe may boost your immune system and make you feel more creative, too. It can even make you feel that you have more time to get things done.” ~ Smithsonian Magazine, August 6, 2015

Unfortunately we have generally fallen out of the habit of seeking out or opening ourselves to experiences of awe. Our smartphones have conditioned us to look down at the screen rather than up at the heavens. Children do not play outside nearly as often as they did just a generation or two ago, while many of their parents spend much of their waking hours working in climate controlled offices. Outdoor time on the weekend, at least during the summer months, often involves yard work rather than more inspiring pursuits.

Of course there is never a guarantee awe will be the result if we decide to ignore the lawn and go for a hike into the nearest mountain range instead. But awe is far more likely to pay us a visit if we’re open to the experience in the first place, and we too rarely are these days.

Photo by Spring Fed Images on Unsplash

The psychologist Paul Pearsall, perhaps growing weary of patients coming to him in search of closure, coined the phrase “openture” to describe an attitude that is perhaps necessary for increasing our chances of awe. Oliver Burkeman, writing for The Guardian, described Pearsall’s neologism this way: “a mindset of actively welcoming awe, of being committed to fully experiencing everything that can be experienced, not just life’s good bits.”

We’re a rather impatient and hedonic culture. We grow restless if required to stand in line for a few minutes, and, as one recent study revealed, we are more likely to choose electric shocks than sitting alone with our thoughts for very long. Perhaps a little awe would put us on the road to placing things back into something closer to the proper perspective. It’s hard to take oneself too seriously when confronted with the fact that an atom is to us what we are to the universe, if that much.

With spring approaching the opportunities for experiencing awe will, as they do every year, literally be bursting from the ground. So do yourself a favor; take a walk in the forest, climb a nearby hill or mountain to take in the view, or visit the desert and watch how even in the harshest environments life can do beautiful things with the scarce resources. Practice a little openture as you go. There are never any guarantees, of course, but awe may just surprise you if you do.

Cover Photo

by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Other recent stories by Craig Axford: Objectivity vs. Subjectivity: An Incongruity That Isn’t Really & Getting There

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com

We Need a Separation of Art and State

By Mason Mohon | USA

Many aspects of American society have been rightfully viewed for centuries as outside the jurisdiction of the state. In particular, the separation of church and state protected by the first amendment of the constitution has gone more or less unabridged throughout American history. The United States Federal Government has fortunately restrained itself enough to let individuals live and let live in the world of religion, whether that means being Muslim, Mormon, Atheist, or Christian. This is because spirituality is important to the individual, and it is highly subjective, meaning that the cold non-discriminatory hand of arbitration extending from the state should not be involved.

It is important for individuals to experience truth for themselves, rather than it being forced upon them. People search for an emotional or spiritual truth within religion, but at the same time within articulation and writing of their thoughts, feelings, desires, and arguments. This is why we also have a separation of the press and state, so that information can spread freely. We have a freedom of speech in the U.S., paired usefully with a freedom to gather, which creates the potential for dialogue, allowing truth to arise through the exchange of thought between two or more individuals.

One instance, though, that we have not seen this clear line in the sand for the protection of free thought and truth pursuit is the arts. Art is an incredibly important aspect of humanity, society, and civilization. Jordan Peterson stated that paintings give the viewer a connection to the unknown, gripping them within. Artists find the balance between chaos and order and then express it within their art form. Leo Tolstoy said that “[a]rt is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others.” Barbara Ernst Prey, an appointed member of the National Council for the Arts described art in the following way:

A lot of what artists do is tell stories. They help us make sense of our world, and they broaden our experience and understanding. The arts enable us to imagine the unimaginable, and to connect us to the past, the present, and the future, sometimes simultaneously.

Art is a phenomenal aspect of humanity. We do not fully understand it, for it is deeply ingrained in our emotional state. This ingraining, though, has serious implications. Something that is so tightly connected to our humanity should not have involvement with the state for various reasons. These reasons are the philosophical, political, and economic dangers of state involvement within the arts.

In the first place, as stated before, art is deeply tied to who we are as humans. It is made to connect with our deepest emotions, in a personal, subjective, manner. The state, though, cannot fit into this world. The state itself is a violent entity, for it receives all funding through either secretive and destructive inflationary methods or taxation (the taking of money from individuals through the threat of force). These two things will only mix as well as oil and water. It poses serious moral and ethical questionability to have such a powerful force (art) backed by such a destructive force (government). David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, said that “art…is so powerful, dealing as it does with such basic human truths, we dare not entangle it with coercive government power.” It should be a serious red flag to ever suggest that beauty should be backed with violence.

Furthermore, it would be a dangerous game for the art world if it began to mess with politics. Furthering what Boaz said, there is another disadvantage to the entanglement of art with government power. Politics is a mess, for people on the left and right are constantly trying to fill it with their culture. Art, being a heavily cultural matter, should not be subject to the whims of whoever has control of a state agency. When the public funding of the taxpayers is involved in the promotion of art, controversial questions of what kind of art should be funded arise. Should gay characters be allowed in publicly broadcasted TV? Should brutal violence be allowed? Should the horrors of slavery be revealed? Should possibly offensive language be censored? Any answer to any of these questions will go against the convictions and cultures of one taxpayer or another. Boaz continued by saying that “[t]o avoid these political battles over how to spend the taxpayers’ money…we would be well advised to establish the separation of art and state.”

The economic side of the issue should also be looked at. Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, said that “expecting government to pay for the [art] bill is a cop-out, a serious erosion of personal responsibility and respect for private property.” The free-marketers are seen as enemies of the art world because we do not support “public funding” for the arts. This could not be further from the truth, for, aside from the political and philosophical issues with state-funded art, there are various economic issues. Money taken from individuals through taxation is money that cannot be spent on something else. Every dollar the state takes from someone is one that can not be spent on something that they may have actually wanted, which could, of course, include art museum or theater tickets.

“Public” government investment almost always comes with strings attached. There will be some sort of political manipulation that erodes the integrity of the art world. At the same time, public investment always has the potential to displace private investment. The danger of a publicly funded art program is the same as any other publicly funded program. When funding is guaranteed, the price tends to increase while the quality tends to decrease. In a demandless publicly funded art world, this issue will only manifest itself in one of the most important parts of human existence.

When art finds voluntary funding, it is because people wanted it. When it finds public funding, there is no way to know if people wanted it with the same degree of accuracy that the market provides. Public funding and state involvement in the world of the arts is dangerous for many moral, political, and economic reasons. Art lies in the same interhuman space that speech and religion tend to inhabit. These things should all then be treated the same; they should all be treated as too good for state control.