Well, my senior year has come and gone. I graduate June 10th from high school — forever. I’m afraid I won’t be too particularly disappointed to see it go; while there will be things about it I will miss, high school has not been the kindest to me, and I think it’s in our best interests that we go our separate ways.
So for my final blog post mandated by my journalism class (the jury is still out as to whether or not I’m going to continue this blog after school ends; more on this later), I bring you, dear, few readers, an interview with someone I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the course of my high school career. While I’ve gone to school with him since first grade, it wasn’t until I got into high school — last year, in particular (shout-out to Longenecker’s first hour and the literal five people that were in it) — that I really got to know Brendan, and now I am pleased and honored to call him my friend. While not an artist in the way one might typically think, he is a talented actor, a brilliant public speaker (this boy could talk for hours if you let him), and a beautiful writer, not to mention a genuinely kind, good, thoughtful human being, and an avid lover of musical theater. He’s someone I trust to really think deeply about questions when they are asked of him, and because of this I decided I would interview him on his perspective, as a non-artist (at least not visual art), about his thoughts on the subject of art, what it is, and what makes people artists. As I expected, he did not disappoint, and I am proud to be able to share his answers with you, my small yet dedicated reader community.
Q: How would you personally define art? What does it mean to you?
A: As someone who’s taken Theory of Knowledge and therefore spent way too much time thinking about this sort of thing, I’ve settled on a definition that I think is fairly simple and straightforward. I would define ‘art’ as intentionally created beauty. ‘Beauty’, in this context, refers to any sort of stimulus that people find appealing, that they gain pleasure from observing or experiencing. This encompasses aesthetic creations of all sorts, from paintings to poems to piano concertos. Exactly how beautiful something is depends entirely on the perceptions of individual people – beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. But for a work to actually constitute art, I think, an additional element is required: it must be deliberately created with the intention of appealing to observers. So while one might easily find beauty in a sunset or a waterfall, that beauty was not intentionally created and would not be considered art. Likewise, while spiderwebs or gears in a clock are deliberately constructed, they are not designed with aesthetic goals in mind.
As for what art means to me personally, I often see it as a means for one person to convey ideas or emotions to others in ways that could not be replicated with information alone. When I find a piece of art that resonates with me, I feel as though I’ve encountered a fragment of genuine human connection, as though I’m experiencing a slice of the world through someone else’s eyes.
Q: What form of art (I’m being very broad here, so feel free to use your own interpretation of the word “art”) would you say you appreciate the most? Why?
A: Generally speaking, I’d say the art form I appreciate the most is spoken language. There’s something I find particularly captivating in listening to the phrases and intonations of actors trading banter or performing dramatic monologues, or the measured tones of an audiobook or podcast. I can listen for the emotions behind each syllable, turn the words over and over in my head to decipher their meaning. I feel that same appreciation for spoken words in any form – someone reciting a poem, arguing a court case, or simply telling a story.
I suspect my affinity for this particular medium stems from a few different sources. Firstly, I’ve always felt a stronger influence from auditory experiences than visual. Listening to things just feels more immediate, more real to me than looking at them. I also think that spoken language in particular has so much to unpack, from the significance of the exact phrases chosen to the tone and rhythm of the words themselves. While the meaning of a painting or a symphony might be obscure to me, human speech has countless variations and all of them convey information about the mindset of the speaker. Finally, I think one reason spoken words hold so much interest for me is their pervasiveness in everyday life. I can easily go a week without hearing a scale or looking at a canvas, but it’s hard to go an hour without putting my thoughts into language or interpreting the language of others.
Q: How do you think that art influences you, as a non-artist, in your daily life?
A: I think that the most profound influence art exerts on my life often goes unnoticed at the time. Even when I’m not explicitly thinking about art, my past experiences with artwork of all forms has shaped my implicit perceptions and opinions. My attitude toward technology and progress, for instance, might be quite different had I never read science fiction growing up. Or my feelings on fairness and punishment, how could they have developed without listening to the music of Wicked or Les Miserables? Even my experience of the world around me is subject to this sway: my dad is a watercolor artist, and growing up with his landscapes all over the house has undoubtedly shaped my appreciation of the natural world.
But perhaps the most valuable role art plays in my daily life is as a form of communication. Any art that both my friends and I are familiar with contributes to a sort of shared language between us, allowing one person to quickly communicate subtle or complex ideas to others simply by referencing a book, movie, or song.
Q: What is one form of art you wish you had more experience with (whether it be creating, learning about, or just looking at)? Why?
A: I wish I had more experience with music. So far, my contact with music has been largely passive – I listen to it when it’s there, and I often enjoy it, but I don’t really take steps to seek it out. Almost all that I actively listen to is musicals, and I very much appreciate hearing music used to tell a story, but I don’t have anywhere near as much experience with music in general as I’d like to.
As I mentioned, I enjoy listening to speech in general, but music in particular intrigues me because it contains so much variety. It feels like I’ve encountered just glimpses of an endless diversity of styles and techniques. When we were learning to distinguish different genres of music in Spanish class, I realized that I could barely tell them apart in English, and I’ve become increasingly aware of just how clueless I am about what the musical world has to offer. And from what I’ve seen, a shared familiarity with music can give people an opportunity to connect with one another on an interesting level. Finally, I myself would love to have more skill and experience with singing. I’ve always been interested in acting in a musical, but I doubt I’d have the necessary musical talent.
A: At what point do you, again from the point of view of a non-artist, believe someone can call themself an artist?
A: This is an interesting question. My instinctive answer would be that an artist is simply any person who creates art, but that doesn’t really look like it holds up. After all, going with the broad definition of art I laid out earlier, pretty much every human being on the face of the earth has created art at some point or another, and there’s no point in using the word “artist” to refer to everyone. Nor would it make sense to have the label come on and off whenever someone engages in artistic activity – we shouldn’t call someone an artist one minute and then not the next. Many terms for a “person who does ‘X’”, such as “doctor” and “lawyer” hinge on accreditation or professional employment, but neither would be useful in this context. An amateur artist is still just as much an artist as a professional.
With that in mind, I think that artists can only be self-identified. In other words, I believe that someone can call themselves an artist when creating art is a central part of their self-image, when they view it as important enough to constitute a defining element of who they are as a person. It’s sort of like being an “athlete” or a “mathematician”. Lots of people do math or get exercise, but each person has to decide for themselves whether that’s a part of who they are. We can’t prescribe some sort of magical objective criterion for the right to be considered an “artist,” because it’s primarily determined by an individual’s own state of mind.
Q: How valuable do you think the study and creation of art (as opposed to, say, studying something in the STEM field) are to society?
I think that the study and creation of art are tremendously valuable both to individuals and society as a whole, providing a means communication and shared experience that makes up an essential part of what it means to be human.
That said, I think that STEM research is much more valuable than art.
Look at the sheer power and efficiency of the scientific method, the goal-oriented drive that has progressed the knowledge and ability of the human species to unimaginable heights. Look at the technological advances that have raised human living conditions to the point where anyone reading this is living like a god by the standards of just a few centuries past. It’s easy, I think, to zero in on the emotional intensity a piece of artwork can evoke, or the painstaking work that went into it, and weigh the overall value of art accordingly. But at times like this, we really need to shut up and multiply. All of the happiness ever experienced by anyone who looked at the Mona Lisa or listened to Hamilton is nothing compared to the value of each and every one of the millions and millions of lives saved by seatbelts and antibiotics and computers and vaccines and fertilizer.
Yes, art is and will always be important. Yes, anyone who devotes their life to creating artwork for others to enjoy is their own sort of hero. But a world where the creation and study of art are the most important tasks facing humanity… that’s not the world we live in. That’s the world the heroes of science are fighting to achieve.
Hey, it’s Aubren again. Briefly popping in to add just a few things. As those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning of my second semester know, this blog is technically an assignment for my journalism class. However, I’ve posted some more personal stuff on here as well — mostly art that I’ve done in my free time, not for any class. Because of this, I’m not sure whether I should continue this blog or not. I don’t know how time-consuming my freshman year of college will be, but I think it could still be valuable to continue posting art and personal rambles and rants to this blog, even if no one reads them. It could be a way for those friends of mine who do keep up-to-date with my blog and who are going to college in distant, faraway lands to keep an eye on what I’m up to off in Michigan.
Still, just in case I don’t continue with this adventure on the internet, I’d like to say goodbye and that it’s been lovely. Even though it’s only been a couple months, I’ve found and followed so many interesting blogs — some of which were kind enough to follow me, a mere high school senior and wannabe art student, in return. So, all in all, it’s been real, WordPress. Thank you to my journalism teacher, Miss Lewis, for making me do this assignment in the first place, and to my friends and family who followed my blog after I pestered them relentlessly into doing so. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts and looking at my pieces as much as I’ve enjoyed creating them.
So, temporarily or for keeps, I’m outtie. Keep on doing what you do. Peace.