Among differing conceptual definitions of art one speaks to my personal experience and growth; that is, that art is the distillation of experience, and unapparent threads of existence, into a visible and transferable message/symbol. Art is the making-apparent, the revelation, the communication of things hidden or not yet said.
Visual art of the Renaissance and pre-modernist eras in the West overwhelmingly communicates a sublime experience; the complex of feelings that Christianity evokes in the artists. The purity, the perfect and absolute beauty of Christian ideals and myth pushes the artist (in a way, echoing the concept of the Holy Spirit itself) to transform the transcendental, complex and obscure (« ineffable ») experience of grace/vision/divinity into a physical object, a form to be apprehended and to embody the idea
Similarly, Cubism later attached itself variously to the midwifery of other concepts (that is, conceptions of reality) such as, notably, the multiple perceptions of a single object that come from differing perspectives, yielding a synthesised image with no clear reference point or geometrical frame; in turn disturbing, unsettling, raising questions on the nature of vision: what does an object look like seen simultaneously from everywhere. (« Chaos ».) Fundamentally, the artist’s chosen role is that of the middleman, the alambic, the messenger, who undertakes the monumental and definitionally impossible task of representing an object (a subject) in its entirety (or in a fraction of its entirety) whether it is a physical subject (the multiple shapes a single face takes from different viewpoints), an idea (beauty. redemption. fate), or a complex of feelings (grief, irrational anger, undisturbed harmony), etc. Any work is finite, and so is any artist; thence a work is always incomplete (save for the self-contained œuvre of the universe), more or less voluntarily.
Other arts follow the same logic: literature describes situations imagined or recalled (brumous ideas of places and processes, fleshed out and transmitted by description and narration). Music uses (previously abstract, now increasingly explicitly semaphoric) sounds, tones, scales and progressions to represent such abstract concepts as strength, calm, tension, and release; emotions such as sadness, hope; and even (somehow!) the entire complex of phenomena forming a season like in Vivaldi, or the arrival of a troupe of valkyries with Wagner. Undoubtedly classical music is one of the most abstract forms of art, speaking on a most fundamental emotional level to our subconscious mind, and lending itself so well to association with senses, places, times, memories, stories…
Let us not forget sculpture, perhaps the most appropriate example of the art as interpretation and maieutic, wherein the artist (until recently) chielfly seeks to carve/form a « likeness » to an idealized human form, reflecting human ideals of the body through time from Sumer to Rodin. Here sculpture and design connect: design has also sought to design physical, tangible objects for human use, starting with the abstract, formless ideal of a chair or table or bridge (analogous to the perfect Body in sculpture). These Forms exist primal as abstract definitions and collections of characteristics which the designer composes into a physically possible object. The person, the artist’s role is to give materiality to ideas. In design « art » returns to its original sense in translating « τέχνη »: art is indeed a technique, a method [for translating a subjective idea into an objective object]. There should not be any distinction between art for « aesthetic » (sensory, semiotic) purposes and practical purposes (engineering of all sorts): we are surrounded by art and produce art(s) every day.
These concepts, experiences, « complexes », are not in the realm of immediate perception for any single person. Their representation/existence as art is an effort to transform these cloudy, indescribable. This is why the quality/success of a work of art can be qualified as its ability to evoke an image/feeling, to reproduce the complex (and experience thereof) in the audience. Every day, art is expressed directly and in all its various forms. If you can draw a cube from visualizing it in your mind (or say the word « cube » and the listener conjures the image of a cube) you’re putting out into the world a sign that effectively conveys and materializes the abstract, perfect idea of the square-faced Platonic solid.
Finally the question of the meaning of « abstract art » must be posed: if art is a movement out of an abstract complex into life (read: reality), what is abstract art? A circular motion, a look in the mirror by the artist who seeks to represent the abstract « haze » of the mind itself? Or is it a meaningless mess born of a lack of education and personal reflection on the artist’s work? Surely both are true. Art as a concept is abstract, and through this essay like through other self-referential works it continues to be fleshed out, with varying degrees of success and completion. Ultimately, it still remains complex, evasive, sublime, always beyond reach, distorted by any attempt to represent it. Human maieutics are no match for the complexity of the world’s hidden order and the mind’s strange phenomena… But we still try, as living and thinking beings do, because that’s what we’re really around for. We’ll always keep making some inroads and progress, carving objects of great beauty and significance.

Art as Maieutic
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