The Art of Humanism

By Bates, Alison | The Humanist, March-April 2007 | Go to article overview

The Art of Humanism


Bates, Alison, The Humanist


Humanism is a nonreligious ideology that touts appreciation for and representation of the human condition, yet it has neglected to fully recognize art as a fundamental component of our collective experience. Humanism aims to represent our intrinsic drives toward rational thought, orderly scientific inquiry, and displays of compassion. But for it to honestly encapsulate the entirety of our human condition, the humanist belief system must open its doors to the inherent need to create, express, and behold the beauty put forth in poetry, song, painting, and other artistic media. In short, humanism without art doesn't adequately reflect the complex human condition.

RELIGION AND ART

Religious adherence is so popular because religion answers some of our deepest questions and assuages some of our strongest fears. Religion quells our apprehension of death with the promise of a supplemental (and improved) afterlife, offers us guiding principals lest we be burdened with deciphering our own moral canons, and provides us with communicative ritualistic practices to prevent us from feeling alone. As contemporary philosopher, poet, and novelist Raymond Tallis wrote in the September/October 2006 issue of Philosophy Now: "Art can and must lay claim to the hole left by the absence of God." The humanist movement hasn't yet replenished the chasms left by godlessness, but through art, humanism could address our religious desires in a secular fashion. Tallis goes on to eulogize artistic expression as the apex of human creation by claiming that "art is not, as was said of Mozart's music, 'God's means of letting himself into his own creation" It is our path to experiencing, with appropriate awe, the extraordinary world which we have in part found (nature) and in part created (culture)."

ART AND THE HUMAN CONDITION

But is art up to the daunting task of filling the void left by the absence of God? Can art help us, to paraphrase Hamlet, "shuffle off this mortal coil"? Art isn't only capable of such mollification, it already provides as much, whether we are conscious of it or not. Art imparts unto us a tangible piece of the human experience in a microcosm. We are able to behold artistic works that summarize and articulate facets of existence that we can comprehend. Life rarely provides such succinct accounts of our collective experience. This benefit is what leads the artist to create and the surveyor to partake. Through art, those innumerable complex features of existence are rendered comprehensible and lucid.

Art also provides us with a semblance of control and with an understanding of a world sans God. Take, for example, something as seemingly simplistic as the beat of a song. A necessary component of music is its measured beat. Thus, "the very basis of music is rhythm, which is fundamentally a division of time using sound," claims Reneh Karamians in the aforementioned edition of Philosophy Now. How does music provide us with an understanding of and control over the natural world? The answer, Karamians states, is that "by creating the illusion of control over harmony with time, music softens the idea of inevitable death since time is the phenomenon through which [we reach] death." Time is the pervading nemesis of all beings conscious and mortal. Without God, we have only our mortality and no chimerical hope of a life that extends beyond our corporeal years. Rhythm, by breaking up time into a structure that we can understand and even tap our feet along with, allows us to believe that we can comprehend the ominous ticking clock. Repetition is also a part of it. Consider the playing of a favorite song. Listening to it again and again fills us with a sense of comfortable familiarity--we know what will come next, and we know that we will enjoy what the immediate future holds as we listen. For the duration of the song, there is no great unknown. The familiarity bestowed by music allows us to feel in control of time, rather than ceding to time the authority to do its dirty work on us all. …

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