Friday, July 29, 2011

How Art Teaches Logic

This past spring was my first semester as an Art Student, but it wasn't my first semester as a college student. My previous collegiate life was enjoyed as a Philosopher. And even though they don't have a lot in common, it kept coming up like a case of deja vu you can't quite kick. Case in point: the further I got in my Drawing class, the more ties there were to Symbolic Logic.

I mentioned this to a friend and fellow Philosophy BA and he demanded I explain. That was months ago and I'm just now getting to this post. So, I won't doddle any longer... how does art teach logic? Well, there are a few key similarities, or perhaps overlaps...

They teach you to see things without mental filler. 

In Philosophy, the key is to get assumptions out of the way by working down to the very base of arguments and then building back up from a strong, defensible foundation. To do that, you have to put personal preferences and guttural opinions to the side and just look at what is there. What can be said that is logically sound and where does that take us from here?

In art, you are learning how to see the world without your assumptions of how things are supposed to look. When you're drawing a chair, maybe you can only see three legs... so don't draw the fourth where you think it is, just leave it alone. When you're drawing a person in profile, you may not be able to see their other eye... so don't pull their face out to get it in the picture. You have to learn to draw what you can see and accept that as your truth and then move on from there.

In both, you have to learn to take your own thoughts/opinions out of the equation and just look at what is there. Otherwise your argument or drawing will never be quite right. And because of that...

They teach you to embrace mistakes.

The biggest thing that holds people back from reaching their potential in both art and philosophy, is the desire to be perfect and the fear of making mistakes. Of course, no one likes to be wrong. And being told that you're wrong by someone else can be one of the worst things ever. But what a lot of people (especially beginners) don't realize, is that in art and philosophy, there really isn't a "right" and a "wrong."

I don't mean that in a typical postmodern sense where everything is okay as long as it holds meaning or some bullshit. What I mean is that when you can see your mistake (where it deviates from what you actually saw, where you took a leap of faith you didn't have to, etc), you can analyze it and learn from it. A mistake is just that: a lesson; especially when you see it without help from others. But even when a friend, colleague, or teacher points it out for you, feeling awful isn't the correct response. You should be giddy to get the feedback and let their point stew in your mind for a while instead of just throwing it out and faking excuses as to why its the way it is.

Directing that almost instinctual negative energy in a positive direction is the only way to really grow, because that means you will do better on the next argument, logical proof, drawing, or painting. You should crave feedback. Especially the stuff that doesn't just praise your ass off, because that's when you can actually learn and better yourself. Of course, the natural side effect of this is that...

They instill a critical (and sometimes cynical) nature.

As the previous sections explained, there is a lot of thought that goes into philosophy and art. There are big, broad questions being asked... not only of your project, but of yourself. And all of these questions manifest in both an inward and outward ways. We question our own self and our own art/arguments continually. When we look at what others are doing, we do the same to them. And even when we're with friends and family, we often can't help but question them and their projects in the very same way we're questioning ourselves and our peers.

But this doesn't have to be a bad or annoying thing. As a bible once said, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," and that is true in just about every field. By showing off our work and getting thoughts, critiques, and criticisms, we can better ourselves and whatever project we're working on.

However, to sharpen someone else, we can't just be a sponge, we have to learn to critique others work. We have to learn how to look at something they've done and give a constructive feedback, we have to learn how to argue respectfully, and we have to know how to listen when they respond to us. Sometimes critiquing someone elses work is more about you learning from what they've done than them from you. But by embarking on this process...

They will change your life.

Both art and philosophy change who you are at a fundamental level. They force you to examine things you might otherwise ignore (theories on reality you scoffed at, a landscape you took for granted, famous work you've never heard of, etc). They force you to examine what you believe and why. They force you to change how you view the world at a very fundamental level and... if you're paying attention... they will give you a greater appreciation for that world and the people in it and around you.

Sure, at the end of the day you can be an artist with no clue at how logic works. And you can definitely be a philosopher without the slightest clue about art. But the students of each go on a similar journey and learn from them in very similar ways. There is a logic to art. And there is an art to logic.

It's a shame that schools don't emphasize how interweaved the different academic divisions are and place an emphasis on that. Isn't it?

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