Anthropological Perspective of Art
Art is a medium of visual communication and is the tangible expression of an artist’s need to create. The function of visual art, in our opinion, lies in its ability to transport the viewer by changing their state of mind. The simple act of viewing a work of art induces a change of perception that provides a momentary escape from the normal pace of life which refreshes the mind and spirit. A sense of pleasure is experienced. This pleasure is based largely upon the view’s appreciation of artistic elements. The form provided by the image evokes a response based on a pattern of recognition. What happens is that there is an idea behind the forms which is activated by the viewer’s awareness of its presence. There is a definite preference for that which has harmony of color, fitness of proportion, and unity of composition. The more attuned a person is to certain aesthetic principles, the more beneficial and meaningful the experience. All this is made possible by the play of elements utilized by the artist to create a special artifact that speaks to the viewer’s heart and elicits a responsive feeling. The artist attempts to intensify reality, to express that which is more dramatic than what we normally see and imbue their creation with a uniqueness by emphasizing certain aspects which attract and focus attention.
The act of making a mark is a genuinely unique human behavior. It is a characteristic that sets people apart from animals. The use of a physical tool to delineate—visually separate and represent a portion of reality, forms the foundation of human culture. This simple act is the result of the mind’s ability to make distinctions and is the basis of our ability to describe and communicate portions of our experiences with others. It is a sharing activity that uses the elements of line, shape, color, texture and value. A viewer’s response is often dependent upon what they bring to the work of art, such as former experiences that they can relate to the visual image. That is why art is so personal. Until fairly recently, art has always been in the service of religious, political, and social ideas, expressing the cultural reality in which it was created. Only in the past century has art been more a self directed expression of an individual artist describing a personalized view of aspects of life.
Delineation, whether incised, drawn, or painted, has been the primary method of attaining the aim of pictorial art—the isolation of an object so that is can be set apart from the rest of experience. The earliest known cave paintings from 15 thousand years ago are outlines of animals placed upon an undefined background. Later, compositions appeared that included an image field where an area enclosed groups of interrelated forms, and later still came the invention of framing devices. Each of these techniques increased the artist’s ability to direct the attention of the viewer.
In every human society art is part of a complex structure of beliefs and rituals. It stands midway between magical or mythical thought and everyday experience, between what is believed and what is perceived. As a means of communication it is similar to language with the ability to make statements of an instructive nature and at the same time exert control with the aim of imposing order.
Subjects, themes, and motifs displayed in a work of art are culturally based. The manner of representation is restricted by the available tools and materials, and by the skills and conventions transmitted from one generation to the next. The manner in which art is executed is subject to modification as are the cultural and social structures in which it is created.
The production of a work of art, an artifact, is dependent upon the manual skill and technical knowledge of the artist. Each object demands the coordination of ideas of forms with the dexterity of handling and the grasp of techniques. In all but the simplest artifacts there exists a tension between the ends and the means, between the idea in the artist’s mind and the skill needed to express it and give it form.
A basic function of art is the release of tension by the artist, enabling the externalization of emotions and ideas in an objective way. Tension release brings satisfaction and pleasure. The viewers of an art object, if it has meaning to them, are likewise stimulated by their perceptions to generate emotional responses of pleasurable feelings. The expression of art begins in a state of tension and the process of translating feelings into artistic form is not easy. Even from the individualist point of view, art never exists for art’s sake alone: it exists for psychophysiological reasons.
The term style means a departure from absolute naturalism. Artists necessarily always compose their creations to some degree. Style expresses a standard method of selectively modifying a real image in a way that produces an aesthetically distinctive and effective representation. It reflects the artist’s continual struggle with materials and meanings. Changes in style are effected exclusively by individuals. Their work is the unique product of their minds and hands however much conditioned by shared cultural traditions and circumstances of place and time.
Among the intrinsic basic needs in life are two complementary ones—the making of order
from experience and the seeking of novelty and the unexpected, which in effect is disorder. Being involved in art is both pleasurable and advantageous since it is therapeutic. It allows for the integration of contradictory and sometimes disturbing feelings, allows an escape from tedium, and permits a temporary participation in an alternative world.
It is generally acknowledged there are two worlds—that of the ordinary experiences of daily life and the extraordinary experience entered by means of a perceptual discontinuity, a gateway so to speak. As humans acquired the ability of reflective self consciousness, abstraction, symbolism, and language, these behaviors resulted in a divorce from the immediacy of experience. Art can temporarily restore the integrity of sensuality and the emotional power of things, in contrast to the habitual and abstract routine of daily living. By short circuiting the analytic faculties of the mind, art connects us to the immediacy of things by allowing us to focus our attention on feeling the direct impact of texture, color, form, and the particularity of the subject matter, resulting in a thoughtless and unselfconscious experience.
The creation of art resembles play in several respects and there is a more than casual relationship between the two. Art can be considered a derivation of play, a type of adult play behavior. Both are intrinsically self-rewarding activities that allow participants to derive pleasure, entertainment, and satisfaction from their activity. Both types of behavior are frequently concerned with overcoming a self imposed difficulty, which hopefully eventually results in the feeling of mastery. Play is characterized by a repeated exchange of tension and release; bouts that end after a buildup in a sense of closure only to be initiated once again. Features such as conflict, surprise, complexity, incongruity, and uncertainty, avoided in serious behavior, are integral and important components of both of play and the creation of art. Play is related to a desire for change, for novelty and entertainment. Although play is relatively free and spontaneous, it may also be concerned with form and order, ritual and rule. Repetition, recurrence and restoration of order bring relief after alterations and diversions. Roles that imitate, exaggerate, and elaborate are evident both in play and art but perhaps the most important feature of both is their ability to express metaphor—something stands for something else. Imitation becomes pretense as the edges between frames of reference are blurred.
The very process of drawing a picture of something is a playful act of separating it as an object from its immersion in the totality of experience. Making something an object is a way to abstract, conceptualize, use the components of one’s experience and environment. Complex symbols unable humans to understand and interpret, to represent and organize, to synthesize and univeralize their experience.
Because art exercises and trains our perception of reality, it prepares us for the unfamiliar and provides a reservoir from which to draw appropriate responses to experiences that have not been encountered. It assists in our capacity to tolerate ambiguity, which is a useful and adaptive ability.
In artistic experience we often respond in an unusual, non-habitual way. Often the artist isolates and complicates what is presented to us so that we must see it differently, not merely recognize it in a routine, habitual way of ordinary experience. Breaking up the familiar, disordering the expected, and acquainting us with the unusual provides a sense of new possibilities that encourages potential adaptive behavior when former solutions are found to be no longer effective. Art is said to provide a sense of meaning and significance or intensity to human life that cannot be gained any other way.
It is generally acknowledged there is a feeling of specialness that is associated with that which is considered art. Artistic objects are expressions of something which is particularly valuable and unique and making something special implies an intent and deliberateness. The idea of art as special pervades the activity of giving artistic expression to an idea and embellishing an object. By recognizing that an idea or object is artistic, one acknowledges a specialness that without one’s regard would not exist. One intends by making special the placement of an activity or object in a realm different from ordinary everyday references.
In most of the art of the past, the special realm was a magical or supernatural world, not a purely aesthetic one. In both types, however, there is associated a leap
from everyday reality to one of a different order which is attributed a special attitude, motivation, and response. In both functional and non-functional art an alternative reality is recognized and entered; the art of making special acknowledges, reveals, and embodies this reality.
The great majority of opinions expressed above are not new or unique but have been gathered from numerous sources to which we give credit but do not ascribe attribution. There are a couple, however, we are pleased to admit, we developed on our own, without reference.