Imagine a world without art. No Rembrandt, no Hemingway, no Kubrick, no J.S. Bach, not even “Cirque du Soleil”. As scary is that may sound, let us imagine for a moment that artistic imagination isn’t a human characteristic. Is it possible then, that we would lose our inspiration, and the compass of our humanity or even our understanding of beauty? Would we no longer be able to swim in the wonderful ocean of another person’s imagination?
Could it be that humanity would sink into a great emotional depression and even worse, complete chaos born out of sheer boredom and ignorance? It’s possible. One thing is undeniable; our understudying of love and how we relate to one another would dramatically be altered. It’s almost impossible to imagine what the world would look and feel like. Let us consider this hypothetical world without music, film, theater, and performance art for a moment. Lets consider it also without all the paintings and drawings that have colored the many canvases of history and our very hearts and minds and experience. In such a world, would we all simply die of boredom? It’s debatable.
As a species, the absolutes we need for survival are food, water, shelter and a mate, so from a biological stand point, the lack of art in this world most likely would not lead to our demise. What would be of major consideration though is how our intellectual, emotional and spiritual evolution would progress. Would our understanding be so altered that we would no longer be standing on so high an apex of science, knowledge and technology?
It’s ridiculous to think that creativity and imagination do not work in tandem with the discoveries of science and technology. So perhaps a world without art may also be a world minus intellectual, scientific and technological achievement, and hence a world unlike anything we can imagine. It can be said that our tendency to be creative and our artistic expression are what truly make us human, so could it be that without art, we would deteriorate to the level of beasts of no intellect? This is also debatable.
For the sake of argument, lets imagine that the world we are contemplating only affects our capacity for artistic accomplishment, and not intellectual and scientific progress, so we would not be on the level of apes.
Art, at it’s root is a mode of self expression, something inside the artist needs to come out, and while sometimes poetry will suffice, often words are not enough an outlet, so a new creation appears out of inspiration, talent, and a unique perspective that finds its way onto a canvas, a paper, a screen or the side of a building. How we define what truly passes as art is mostly in what kind of effect it has on others and also our constructed standards whether they be academic or industry standards. But ultimately, if we want to figure out if it is art or just crap, we could ask the following questions: Does it inspire? Does it enlighten, does it shift our understanding and meaning of what it means to exist? Does it broaden our understanding of love? Does it ease the burden and stress of everyday worries by shifting our emotional gears into an alternate perspective? Does it add something beautiful to the world?
It’s true that with the commercialization of art, how we gauge what is truly of artistic and creative value is ordered by what is better advertised, and how presentable and attractive the artist may be. Sex indeed does sell. But, in turn, the lines between scribble and the Mona Lisa are beyond muddled. What passes as art these days sometimes seems to confuse the lot of us and even has a way of getting under our skin if we don’t just take it in jest. Most of us either ignore the sea of mediocre art clutter, or just accept it as is without digging too deep into such matters as artist merit, positive energy, social consequences and industry standards, but for those of us with an extremely sensitive nature, the adverse effects can be down right injurious.
It’s true that nowadays, access to platforms of expression are so vast that almost everyone is aiming at celebrity fame and fortune, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our intuition for what is of actual significance, nor does it mean that we are drowning and entertainment mediocrity. If we really do want to find quality, it’s out there, it just takes a little more effort on our part, like turning off the TV and carefully selecting a particular film, or visiting museums as opposed to going to the club, or picking up a book in stead of an advertisement magazine. In any case, weather one chooses art for inspiration or entertainment or just for killing time, is a personal choice, and to each his own, but to get back to the main hypothetical, “What would it be like to live in a world completely devoid of art?”
Far from advocating a world empty of art and artists, I am going to say that this hypothetical world may not be so bad, if at the least we would be spared from the pain and confusion brought on us by the hackery of glitzy pop-culture. It’s true that we would lose so much together with that, but if we considered that at the start of this hypothetical world, we were without art, how would we ever really know of its existence, and how much would it actually affect us? It’s like a tree falling in the forest, or a like a mermaid with phoenix butterfly wings. She may be out there, and she may be the most beautiful creation know to the universe, but having never come across her, it may not really alter our path in the least bit. Most likely, she doesn’t exist until someone decides to draw or paint her, but then she could become a work of art, and that is another matter. Nevertheless, there are millions of other creatures asides from fantasy concepts that do exist, and this is where our understanding or search for art would have to shift; naturally to nature.
Now, if we do come across a Phoenix butterfly minus the mermaid, would we really be that disappointed? Would sitting on the beach admiring a sunset as opposed to looking at a painting by Terry Fenton* not be considered an enjoyment of art? In many ways, there is no greater artist than nature, so it may be possible that our inspiration and sense of beauty might even be elevated if we spent more time in nature. Regardless, isn’t the nature of inspiration directly inspired by nature? Some of us might dislike nature not for natures sake alone but for part of the elements that we could be sensitive to, like the sun, or the mosquitoes, but if there were no museums or theaters, wouldn’t mosquito kisses and a sun tan count towards the price of admission. That’s probably debatable.
So, while mosquitoes are a disease laden pest of a bloodsucking flying insect, if one was closely to observe it in action, there is enough wonder and beauty that we would be hard pressed not to consider it as entertainment, the opposite of boredom. The contemplation and enjoyment of nature, or (natural art, or the art of nature), might be all we need. Perhaps, one could even take the mosquito specimen a step further and put it under a microscope to really appreciate its mechanism and exquisite construction. That could venture into the world of a type of abstract psychedelic insect art.
Perhaps insects alone could take the place of paintings, drawings, photographs, horror films and any other kind of visual art medium we crave. Mosquitoes are probably a poor example, so lets consider them an intro to the world of art, the second step could be the butterfly, or a lady bug, or an ailanthus webworm that eats on the leaves of the extremely common Ailanthus Altissima tree also known as the tree of heaven also know as the stink-tree because it is also know to host the brown marmorated stink-bug.
For music, the birds, the crickets, the frogs, the wind, the waves, the trees, the thunder, the rain, the waterfalls, the bees, the coyotes, the elephants, the dolphins, and the monkeys probably have us covered. Dog’s can take care of comedy and tragedy and cats can provide the drama. While hopefully not too far fetched, this can be considered very debatable.
In 1995, Japanese divers discovered extremely intricate and artistic geometric patterns under the shores of Amami-Oshima in Japan. For 16 years, no one could figure out what these geometric patterns were or who made them. Fast forward to 2011, and one of the greatest mysteries of the underwater world is revealed.
In the tiny little neighborhood of the vast Pacific Ocean just past the lazy turtle bizarre on lobster-street, under the shores of Amami- Oshima, lay the canvas of a Japanese new species of Puffer-fish. On the fine delicate and shifting sands of the ocean’s bed, this little 5-inch fish spends around 10 days constructing and garnishing a perfectly crafted 7-foot wide work of awe-inspiring beauty, complete with seashell ornamentation. The masterful design is geometrically perfect. It is far from an enduring fixture, for the tide can easily sweep it away at any moment, yet the puffer fish is not concerned with that and carries on until the work is finished.
It has to be said, that, if this little Puffer-fish with its non-existing intellect, and complete lack of marketing strategy has the ability to so expertly design such a wonderful piece of art, and without the slightest comprehension of industry standards or moral and social responsibility, does it not have us all beat as an entire species in terms of artistic genius. One thing we do know about him is that he does all this work for an audience, or just one audience member essentially, a single mate. So the motives are probably not all that dissimilar to why most humans initially pursue a mode of artistic expression.
The primary objective of his tireless efforts, are for the sake of attracting the female puffer partner. She doesn’t stay very long, just long enough to deposit her eggs in the center of his art piece and then she gets on her way leaving the male and the eggs sort their existence out. Mr. Puffer sticks around to take care of the eggs for 7 days and then until his future exhibit when the process will be repeated all over again when he is left once again with is art and a nest of eggs.
There are similar examples of art and beauty everywhere in nature, like the birds of paradise in Indonesia, or the Skogafoss waterfalls of Iceland to name a few, but there is one thing that is without doubt when we consider the art crafting fish of Amami- Oshima and that is; pound for pound and without any doubt, this little 5 inch puffer-fish out in the great Pacific has to be the greatest artist in the world. Non-debatable
We may think of a world without man-made art as virtually unnatural, but if it were indeed the case, and we had lost touch with the art of creating art, if such a sad and terrifying world was the state of the world we inhabit, then maybe there is a little reassurance knowing that art is practically every where in nature, and that every living organic organism is in itself is a work of art, so then can the world ever really be without art?
*Note: Terry Fenton is one of the first search results that pops up on google when searching for “landscape artists”.