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Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
Second Web Paper
On Serendip


Student Contributor

Art is a thoughtful, emotional expression. It has many forms, such as painting, sculpture, architecture and the written word. Rousseau proposes, "Instead of thinking of life as something to which signs and texts are added to represent it, we should conceive of itself as suffused with signs (Culler 12)." For these purposes the signs which Rousseau identifies are works of art. This statement speaks to the inseparable quality of life and art. Since life and art are connected they invariably affect one another. Life is inherently chaotic. This prompts the creation of art, which consequently promotes the stasis of chaos. Art's affect on society demands that we decide whether we value art enough to risk our own undoing.

Human beings are psychologically driven creatures. As a result their endeavors are similarly psychologically driven. The compulsion to create is one of our most basic, primitive drives. From a psychological perspective this is known as sublimation, or the channeling of one's energy into a healthy, socially acceptable behavior. This behavior alludes to the idea that the act of creating something of significance makes up for life's troubles. This cognitive negotiation is known as rationalization. It would seem that productively acting in response to chaos would restore the good. However, this energy is misdirected. Channeling all of one's energy into art neglects the problems that truly need attention. In this way art is like putting a fresh coat of paint on a crumbling old home. Consider the Beat Generation. This was a passionate group of painters and poets who produced a massive body of work during the mid twentieth century. It is not a coincidence that they indulged heavily in promiscuous sex, hard drugs and maintained dysfunctional relationships with one another. This environment was the major catalyst that caused them to work. For instance, William S. Burroughs wrote his most famous novel, Naked Lunch, while under the influence of drugs. Rather than focusing on his personal problems he wrote. This addiction progresses so aggressively that he eventually shot his wife in the head while under the influence. In this instance Burroughs' art did nothing to mend his troubled existence, if anything his art perpetuated it.

Chaos manifests itself in many forms and can affect us independently, as it did with the Beats, or as humans collectively. It reaches all of us to varying extents in each aspect of our lives. Art is a symptom of chaos. Art cannot exist without chaos and chaos inevitably leads to the production of art. There is evidence of art reaching back to ancient cave drawings. Often the artists would depict hunt scenes, which are a smaller, more controlled example of chaos, on the cave walls. A life without such chaos, whatever the degree of severity, is not, to the best of our knowledge, possible because people have never existed without art. In fact, all that we learn about our ancestors come from the artifacts they left behind. This begs the question of whether inhibiting the production of art would allow us to correct the chaos of life. Yet there are presently so many forms of art that it seems possible that the prevention of the use of the old mediums could lead to new, unpredictable forms of art that would spontaneously, and perhaps unintentionally, explode out of us. This would suggest an innate component to our human drive to be artistic. It would also mean that art, as well as chaos, are inevitable as long as humans thrive. However, this interchange is not without purpose.

Immanuel Kant thought that aesthetics are meant to "bridge the gap between the material and the spiritual world (Culler 32-33)." This idea assigns a greater purpose to life and is appealing to humans who struggle with chaos. It is meaning which makes this chaos worthwhile for the intellectual. For example, Picasso painted "Guernica" in 1937 after the town was bombed by German soldiers for practice. It is the intellectual who is able to reflect on the incident and gain a greater understanding of what happened because of this piece. Chaos also appeals to our passions. Culler notes that aesthetic objects have "a purposiveness to their construction: they are made so that their parts work together towards some end. But the end is the work itself, pleasure in the work or pleasure occasioned by the work, not some external purpose (33)." It is this pleasure that makes the chaos seem tolerable and prevents its correction. Pleasure becomes more desirable and replaces one's drive to harness the chaos.

Picasso wrote, "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given to us to understand (Picasso 321)." In regard to the relationship between art and chaos art is only a lie as long as its purpose remains unexamined. For some of us, regardless of the negative ties that art has to life, nonexistence is favorable to a life without it. Art teaches us that all wonderful things have ramifications. I would argue that the greatness of a masterpiece exponentially surpasses the harm it causes because it captures its chaotic origins and builds from them. It is as if life's troubles have changed form and evolved into a worthwhile, undying entity.

1. Burroughs, William S., Naked Lunch, New York: 1959.
2. Culler, Jonathan, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, New York: 1997.
3. Picasso, Pablo, "Statement to Marvis de Zayas," 1923.

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