… That instinct was at work 17,000 years ago in the artisans of Lascaux who decorated the walls of the caves with images which move us still today.
Among theorists as well as ordinary folk who enjoy the arts the recurring question, “What is art for?” finds its way into conversations. This is a question about the value or the meaning of art and it plays into our pragmatic concerns. Two very different answers are given to this question.
The first draws on the romantic tradition and perceives art as self-sufficient having no need for engagement with the common good or matters of moral concern – an art for art’s sake viewpoint. The second answer sees art as willing engaged with a worthy purpose outside of itself. Art for example could be socially redemptive. Many today hold the view that art is a luxury, not a necessity. And so we assume the best route is to simply forego the arts when more important matters call for our attention. This may foster a cavalier disregard for the arts and a failure to capture their significance for the human community and their important role in our social settings. It may well be folly to try to provide a case for the “necessity” of art but I am willing to make the effort by drawing on three ideas; one anthropological, one sociological and one theological. Too much for this short piece but I will aim for brevity.
New Zealand professor of art Denis Dutton in his book titled The Art Instinct makes a case for art, based in evolutionary science. The suggestion is that art is a universal phenomenon like language and tool making. It is one of the ways we share the feeling of recognition and communion with other human beings.
We speak readily about creation and art and about incarnation and art – but are largely silent on the work of the Spirit and art.