Why do we have art, why do we make art, and why is it important? A brief Google search demonstrates that these questions are burning holes in many a human mind. At APS, we’re contemplating the same thing as we’ve recently added Public Art Installation to our Service Menu. We aren’t just into artistic displays and custom fabrication installs because they look cool, though. We strive to build dreams and meet the needs of our commercial clients, and we’ve gotten nerdy and collected some compelling wisdom that supports art as a basic human need.
As an inextricable part of the history and evolution of the human race, art might actually be explained biologically. “People make music, dance, paint, tell stories, adorn objects and self, and by all indication, we’ve artified from our earliest beginnings,” says Natalie Angier, science columnist for the New York Times, in an article discussing the biological theory behind art (American Scholar). From prehistoric cave paintings to the finger paintings of today’s toddlers, art seems to just come out of us, unprovoked. It’s both universal and unique to humans: it happens across all cultures without exception, and we’re the only animals on Earth who do it.
Science suggests that the appreciation of art is a biological response to visual stimulus and its connection to an inner instinctive state. This is not unique to humans, it can be witnessed in nature, for example: “When peahens behold a beautiful peacock, they are “moved” by it, in the sense that it affects their current mental state. We know this because it affects their behavior and we assume that behaviors spring from mental states. This is exactly what the fine arts are all about in humans: they employ a visual stimulus to affect the mental or emotional state of the viewers,” explains Ph.D. Psychologist Nathan Lentz.
As humans evolved from primitive, solely instinctual animals into languaging, social, judging and planning creatures, we needed art to both communicate and process information. Whether the words did not exist yet or there was a language barrier or the artist was representing something he or she didn’t yet have the language for, “Art says things words just can’t say,” says Maria Rodale, CEO of Rodale, Inc., a modern health and wellness publications company. Because humans began to use art and imagery as communication early in our evolution, it became inextricable from how our brain patterns and thinking processes developed. Artistic expression emerged as an instinctive response to new needs created by our evolutionary advancements, and it’s now a huge constituent of our basis for investigating, analyzing, and self-educating. It’s a collective human raison d’etre.
“Art is not just a creation of humanity, it is humanity,” concludes Edward Wilson, another proponent of the biological theory of art, in his book The Origins of Creativity (American Scholar).
Art as an Educational Need
“It’s hard to walk by art and not look at it,” says Maria Rodale. It’s true, like looking at a word in print and trying not to read it, art demands attention, scrutiny, and response; to be read. It follows that when you read an artwork, thoughts and feelings are also sparked in a cognitive chain. In other words, it makes us think, and it makes us think in new ways. Just like learning!
Dr. Dustine Rey, Founder and Executive Director of Gratitude Garden Preschool (see the build here!), professor at Pepperdine University, researcher, and parent, explains proudly of her school: “We are a nature-based STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) focused school with an emphasis on positive social and emotional development, artistic expression, and creativity. “Early exposure to these concepts ignites intellectual creativity, critical thinking, and establishes a foundation of curiosity that supports academic well-being and a joy for learning.” (Of course, joy and fun have their own support for educational advantages.)
Indeed, in a wide range of studies over time, causal relationships have been established between arts education and the strengthening of critical thinking skills, social tolerance and historical empathy, and even a taste for art and cultural institutions. The inference is that arts education is beneficial when taught in tandem with a curriculum more broadly accepted as academic, instruction-based education (The New York Times). You can find an assortment of such studies on the Center for Online Education site, who sums them up with the assertion that art “helps students improve visual analysis skills, learn from mistakes, be creative, and make better critical judgments.”
The relationships found in studies on the importance of art education affirm that incorporating the study of art benefits both emotional and academic development. After all, education is more than the strict transmission of a body of knowledge, it’s the development of social intelligence, the ability to emotionally relate and regulate, and the ability problem-solve in the real world.
“We have art in order not to perish from the truth,” as Friedrich Nietzsche once said.
Art as a Social Need
We’ve already discussed art as more than expression, it’s communication. Not only is it an alternative way to present a thought, feeling, or story for the artist, it is an alternative way to listen for the observer. In that way, it’s entangled in the “full range of human expression,” (Rodale). Both making and observing art are a way of speaking to one another and coming together as social creatures.
In the lifetime of a piece of art, the influences and experiences are not singular and private to the artist or to the observer, they’re moving parts of the joint human experience. And the product of expression, whether it’s a painting, a sculpture, a book, or dance, must have an audience to relate to it.
Art challenges the observer to different perspectives than his/her own. “It reaches further than the accepted and the known, and beyond the inevitabilities that we’ve been told we cannot escape,” says Katrena Gregos, independent curator and exhibitions organizer, in her TEDx talk on Why Art is Important. Art exercises the imagination. It shows us what the world we live in has looked like, or what it could look like, it gives us an Other to relate to (Rodale). In that way, it can teach, inspire, lead to reflection, change, emotional release, even healing. While that may happen at an individual level, it takes at least the relationship between artist and observer to create the spark, and often further impels a collective force. We require art in order to understand and relate to our individual history, as well as our shared history and culture (SpeakArtLoud). Added to that, we humans tend to gather at the theater, museum, or sculpture garden to take it in collectively.
Art is also a reflection of our social power. It can detail historical experience on a personal and collective level, and gestures at our human ability that we can choose what to think and say, when and where to wander and to come together, whether to agree with something, whether to take action. to “Art is bourne of, and advocates, freedom,” (Gregos). Is that not the most basic of human needs? Through endless forms of artistic expression, we have the freedom to build our environments, inside and out. Visual art is one grand reminder of that.
“I make the world, I don’t simply inhabit it,” declares British artist Antony Gormely.
Art itself is a developmental need for us all on biological, educational, and social levels. APS is striving to offer solutions to these needs in our local communities with the implementation of our multi-trade construction services, and we want to work with others who want to do the same. Use art to tell staff, clients, shoppers, and passersby who you are and what you offer, and fulfill on a commitment to better the community. Who doesn’t want to make the world a better place?
Do you have plans for interactive sculpture, art installation, custom fabricated visual or furniture installation, or even jungle gyms on your commercial property or public property? We are available to bid on projects that are being actively planned, and can also collaborate with artists and teams in the concept phase to get the design down on paper plans, get regulatory approvals, and get your project made! Contact us for professional collaboration in any phase of the design, permitting, building, and/or installation of your vision.
American Scholar: Can evolutionary biology explain the human impulse to create? by Natalie Angier
Center for Online Education: 10 Salient Studies on the Importance of Arts in Education
Gratitude Garden Preschool
The New York Times: Do We Need Art in Our Lives? by Michael Gonchar
Psychology Today: Why do humans make art? by Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D.
SpeakArtLoud: Five Reasons Why We Need Art
TEDx: Why art is important by Katerina Gregos
Top Ten Reasons Why Art is Essential to the Human Spirit by Maria Rodale