Art as a Driver of Consciousness
Advances in art have always predicted social trends and in many instances, catalyzed social transformations. That is largely because the role of art is to use a creative medium to share experiences. Art is just another term for material expression, expression of human experience and emotions. The sensation one has when deeply connecting to or admiring a work of art is one of shared value or shared emotion–often indirect, and often inarticulable, this capacity of art is yet why great works of art are accessible to people’s internal experiences across cultural and social boundaries.
Works of art both “lock in” a culture’s values and trends, and a particular medium’s history, while simultaneously expanding future possibilities. Art reinforces a culture’s values within the time of its creation, which means that, in subtle ways, it “closes off” creative innovation by establishing a particular medium’s language for communicating again in the future. This language is subtly influenced by a culture’s social values. Go see a movie this week and consider what each element of its story tells you about what your society values and what it disdains. What makes the “good guy” good, and the “bad guy” bad? Where does the humor come from? And, to take it even deeper, were certain plot points or moments orchestrated to make you feel a certain way? In actuality, your entire moviegoing experience relies on a shared “movie” language that assumes a whole lot about you, your experiences and what matters to you. In this way, films “lock in” and reinforce cultural assumptions about what is true.
At the same time, art also facilitates growth through allowing people to share emotions, to relate to one another, to break out of our solipsistic boxes. Our emotional connection to certain works of art tickles the sublime in us, arouses our sense that there is shared truth, shared beauty, and hence a common reality between us. Fundamentally, consciousness is expanded when we share. Meaning arises from interaction between organisms, not from within the container of one organism. Learning (cognition) arises in the communication between an organism and its environment (an environment which is made up of other organisms).
If it’s true that the environment and the organism mutually construct one another’s identity–like our human impact on the global ecosystem–then they both equally deserve consideration as distinct figures that are yet reliant on one another for existence; they are interrelated systems, not isolated objects, and they are both important figures. This concept has been explored in “figure-figure” art, where the subject (thematic content) of the art seems to engage the medium in the construction of its meaning.