TOLFA Segment 17 Art

Art is what mankind has produced for contemplation in ways other than the written word; and so provides the intellectually curious with an enormous field freely to explore.

It includes not only paintings and drawings such as might be found in an art museum - classical or modern - but sculpture, photography still and moving, ceramics, even architecture. One could spend a lifetime in its worldwide study - and many do - and still not appreciate all the length and breadth of what man as artist has created, in his 100,000 years or so on the Planet.

In a sense art is surplus to what humans need to live on. Most things we make are utilitarian - they have some useful purpose, in the business of eating, drinking, cooking, travelling, working; when the artist gets to work something elegant and beautiful is created, to be admired and enjoyed. The two may of course merge and often do; a computer screen or a laptop need not be plain and ugly and the Dell screen where these words are first appearing is well designed both functionally and artistically; it has an elegant, curved double support bracket behind the panel. Probably it would have been cheaper to bolt on a straight bracket; the designers added a little flair for good measure. And so perhaps to help it sell; for we like looking at pleasant things, even though we have a hard time defining what we mean by "pleasant."

Before the age of photography, people who wished to have their likenesses remembered hired painters and sculptors to do the work, and so we have some idea of what life was like hundreds and even thousands of years ago and so art blends with history. We see them now, with human forms identical to ours, though probably a bit less tall on average; we reflect that mankind hasn't changed a whole lot. We can also reflect that Greek and Roman sculpture seems vastly superior to the cramped, artificial style of mediaeval paintings - but experts (of whom this writer is not one) can doubtless find virtue and interest in the latter. At least those perspective-lacking pictures provide a record of buildings, towns and clothing fashions as they used to be.

Art has seldom if ever been free of control, and so we get an incomplete view. In the last century for example the German Nazi government banned certain types of expression as "degenerate", and the one in America has done its utmost to be prudish; if an artist's subject takes off his or her clothing, the artist has to check that he isn't breaking some government law. This has been notably true of movies, for censors clamped down hard on Hollywood from 1930 onwards, for example with the Hays Code. In a free market if some kinds of art are considered obscene, the simple remedy is not to buy it. Artists too must eat, and will very soon get the message. When artificial controls are happily removed, it will be clear to all parties what customers wish to buy and not to buy and the industry will respond accordingly; likewise the buyer of art will know that no Nanny is telling him what he may or may not watch.

Fortunately for those who have a hard time telling one end of a paint brush from another, photography is recognized as an art form and some of its product has been spectacular. While studying in this Academy students may have followed links to Strike the Root from time to time, and may have noticed the beautiful photographs of scenes in nature that adorn its home page.

The camera is available to all, film and digital, and so everyone can become an artist. Maybe only 2 or 3 in 100 photos are worth enlargement and framing, but over the years that can build up quite an impressive home art gallery. And with computer control of digital images, art has since the turn of the Century entered yet another new dimension; the possibilities for beauty and ingenuity in artistic creation seem endless and rewarding.

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