The Necessity of Art

This book by Ernst Fisher comes with an introduction by the wonderful pioneering art historian John Berger, so is a wonderful find. It seems that as long as there have been humans, we have been making art of some form, so the title seems particularly apt. If it’s not essential to us, why do we do it? Art is increasingly being treated as an elite subject, rather than a core of learning, so this book makes some really important points.

“As a first step, we must realize that we are inclined to take an astonishing phenomenon too much for granted. And it is certainly astonishing: countless millions read books, listen to music, watch the theatre go to the cinema. Why? To say they seek distraction, relaxation, entertainment, is to beg the question. Why is it distracting, , relaxing, entertaining to sink oneself in someone else’s life and problems, to identify oneself with a painting, or a piece of music, or with the characters in a novel, play or film? Why do we respond to such ‘unreality’ as though it were reality intensified? What strange, mysterious entertainment is this? And if one answers that we want to escape from an unsatisfactory existence into a richer one, into experience without risk, then the next question arises: why is our own existence not enough? Why this desire to fulfil our unfulfilled lives through other figures, other forms, to gaze from the darkness of an auditorium at a lighted stage where something that is only play can so utterly absorb us?

Evidently man wants to be more than jus himself. He wants to be a whole man. He is not satisfied with being a separate individual; out of the partiality of his individual life he strives towards a ‘fulness’ that he senses and demands towards a fulness of life of which individuality with all is limitations cheats hi, towards a more comprehensible, a more just world, a world that makes sense. He rebels against having to consume himself within the confines of his own life, within the transient, chance limits of his own personality. He wants to refer to something that is more than ‘I’, something outside himself and yet essential to himself. He longs to absorb the surrounding world and make it his own; to extend his inquisitive, world-hungry ‘I’ in science and technology as afar as the remotest constellations and as deep as the innermost secrets of the atom to unite his limited ‘I’ in art with a communal existence to make his individuality social.”

Much of the above can also refer to religion of various forms, something I have also often noted.

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