m. The Role of Art

The Role of Art

Wiston, John A Challoner

Individual tastes in art vary enormously. This is because we find a work of art, whether it be painting, music, poetry, or literature, beautiful when it unconsciously triggers an association with something from our lives to which positive emotions are attached. For example, if holidays in the South of France have given us pleasure, then similar pleasure can be gained from art that triggers those recollections.

There are no absolute rules that determine what is “good” or “bad” art. Rather, they have a cultural basis. For example, in the West, music in a major key is generally perceived as happy and music in a minor key as sad. The conventional explanation is that the minor key contains more dissonance and is therefore inherently sad. However, as the research described in the link below shows, non-western cultures can have a greater preference for dissonance, can find the major key strange and foreign, and can attach different emotions to a piece of music than westerners.

How your culture informs the emotions you feel when listening to music (

In summary, therefore, beauty in art arises from both personal and cultural associations.

However, it is common for high status individuals to collect or sponsor art. There can, of course, be an element of personal pleasure and satisfaction in this. However, the principal reason is to gain followers and grow or maintain the hierarchy that supports their status. High status individuals must overtly appear to have something to trade in return for their followers’ support. They must also appear to have something to trade with high status peers, if alliances are to be formed. In this context, art can be a symbol of the wealth and status that is potentially available for trade.

Art can also be a symbol of belonging to a particular culture. In the case of high-status individuals, this is a symbol of belonging to the elite. If people who aspire to high status display the symbols of the culture to which they aspire, they are more likely to be selected by their seniors as potential supporters. A taste in art is one such symbol. This creates a positive feedback loop which maintains the status of the art favoured by a culture.

Art is, of course, often is a symbol of belonging to a sub-culture. In such cases, it often expresses rebellion against established social norms through its rebellion against established artistic norms.

Wealthy, high-status individuals also collect art as an investment. This creates another positive feedback loop. The highest-status individuals can establish what new developments in art are accepted by their culture. Followers aspire to that culture and, thus, display its symbols. Demand for the new development in art grows among the wealthy and, thus, prices increase.

Similar principles apply to other aspects of the elite’s culture, e.g., vehicles, clothing, homes, etc. Families who are established members of the elite pass its culture on to their children. However, the nouveau riche and those who aspire to the elite are less well “educated”. Some will, therefore, emulate wealthy and powerful role models without fully understanding how the process works. They can, therefore, seem merely brash until they gain experience. Finally, some who aspire to the elite can be duped, by advertising, into incorrectly believing that certain products signal high status and can, therefore, help them to achieve it. Watch the advertisements with this in mind.

So, if you wish to enjoy art, then enjoy art that does give you pleasure, rather art that should give you pleasure.  

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