O.P. Recommends: The Great Arab-American Painter, Poet, and Philosopher Kahlil Gibran on Why Artists Make Art, by Maria Popova

Khalil Gibran, Autorretrato Con Musa, 1911, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Khalil Gibran, Autorretrato Con Musa, 1911, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

As happens so often, I’ve just discovered another wonderful thing because of the great Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. If there is only one website or blog you follow, I recommend that one be Brain Pickings. Literature, history, philosophy, art, poetry, children’s books, all of these and more are topics of discussion there, and the writing is beautiful.

This time, the discovery is the artist, writer, and philosopher Kahlil Gibran, and his take on a question I and I’m sure all other artists and writers ask ourselves from time the time: why we constantly feel the driving need to create things.

Popova writes:

The questions of why we humans create — why we paint caves and canvases, why we write novels and symphonies, why we make art at all — is so perennial that it might indeed fall within the scope of what Hannah Arendt considered the “unanswerable questions” central to the human experience. And yet some memorable answers have been given — answers like Pablo Neruda’s stirring childhood allegory of the hand through the fence.

Another exquisite answer comes from the great Arab-American artist, poet, and philosopher Kahlil Gibran (January 6, 1883–April 10, 1931) in Beloved Prophet (public library) — the collection of his almost unbearably beautiful love letters to and from Mary Haskell…

Read the article in full at Brain Pickings

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O.P. Recommends: Delaware Artist Inspired by Philosophy and Music to Make Beautiful Artwork, by Brian Drouin

Moment in a Forest of Words, image credit Michael Krausz, used by permission

Moment in a Forest of Words, image credit Michael Krausz, used by permission

I just came across this great story about Michael Krausz, a professor of philosophy and an

‘..artist [who] weaves music, art, and philosophy together as one.

Swiss born Michael Krausz was destined for a life of music, the son of professional musicians, he later discovered philosophy and in a moment that changed his life he discovered his love of painting…’

Read Krausz’s story and watch the video by Brian Drouin. I think you’ll love what you see and hear.

You can learn more about Krautz at his Bryn Mawr faculty page as well.


Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

From Venus of Willendorf to Leonardo da Vinci: In Praise of Art That’sLess About Concept and More About Story and Craft

I love to make things, as anyone will tell you who’s known me very long. My two favorite kinds of things to create are written pieces, be they argumentative, explanatory, illustrative, narrative, and so on, and are usually essays; and artworks, now usually picture quilts, but for many years drawings, paintings, and occasionally sculptures. Though I’ve long loved the written word, my oldest creative love is art.

I’m also a populist by instinct, in the sense that I care a lot about sharing my life with many kinds of people, and relatively little about fitting in with or impressing a small, select group. When I’m in a scene that feels too cliquish, too elite, too cool, too exclusionary, too, well… ‘scene-y’, then I’m out. Not to say I don’t care about community: I do, deeply. But when it comes to anything I think is wonderful and lovable, the more widely I want to share it. That’s what I’m all about as a writer and as an artist.

And that’s why I’m just not that into conceptual art, on the whole. By conceptual art, I mean that which is created more with the intention of referring to or hinting at abstract concepts, and less for purpose of telling a story or of being a thing of beauty. The more conceptual a piece is, the more it leaves me cold, because to me, conceptual art is exclusionary in nature. This type of art is really only meaningful to, and therefore meant for, an exclusive circle, people who spend a lot of time in that sort of art culture, or in a moneyed elite, or in certain academic circles. (I value and respect academia, but to me, it fulfills a very different function than art does.) It’s made for people in a position to ‘get it’. Conceptual art speaks in jargon, in secret handshakes, in code, in insider-ese, in the language of moneyed leisure. All well and good for those who enjoy this sort of club atmosphere. But of art, I want more.

I want art that’s more like music, or poetry, or architecture, or myth: even if it’s originally meant only to communicate within a culture, it can and does communicate across time, space, culture, socioeconomic status, and language. To me, the more soul-stirring the art is, the more comprehensively it tells a story (in both senses of the word ‘comprehensive’). It’s that sort of universal human communication, like tears, laughs, sighs, or smiles, that makes art transcendent, that bridges those gaps between each other and between ourselves and all that exists, which we all ache to cross. 

I love folk art, and I love craftsmanship. They are the two sides of art that I think communicate most universally. 

By folk art, I mean that which is meant to communicate a story: of a person or persons, of an event, of a myth, of belief, of history. It can be crude or it can be finely wrought, but what makes it good is its ability to communicate to anyone, from anywhere or at any time, what’s going on in the mind and heart of the artist. 

By craftsmanship, I mean the art of creation which requires a high level of dexterity and skill, and which demonstrates the countless hours of practice and of mastery that demonstrates the artist’s deep love of the creative process itself. We all make things, so we are all able to recognize and appreciate, on some level, whatever level of care and ability that went into making the thing we see. And as makers, we invariably encounter the limits of our abilities, and in doing so, we realize how difficult it is transcend our own limits and make something well. When an artist accomplishes this superbly, we’re impressed, and delighted.

On the whole, I think the world of conceptual art is suffering too many of the ill effects of its own excesses. Craftsmanship is not valued nearly enough; indeed, I’ve heard artworks rich in it dismissed time and time again as not really art, they’re ‘just crafts’. Representations of people, places, and ideas that are widely recognizable are dismissed as ‘too literal’. I really think that most people who walk through galleries these days are often jaded, or bored, or amused, or bemused, and, as a whole, tired of being talked down to by artists and gallery curators. The public is getting tired of the art world’s pretensions: it often looks as if just about anything can be fastened to the wall, demanding the public’s praise and appreciation so long as it’s accompanied by a description that sounds obscurely profound enough. Conceptual art, on the whole, has grown too elitist and too removed from the most fundamental emotional needs that art, at its best, can fulfill.

I grant that there are some things of value in conceptual art, too. For one thing, as my husband points out, when it was a new movement, it allowed artists to break down artistic boundaries, many of which should have been broken down since they placed too many restraints on innovation and creativity. (I can always count on Bryan to play an effective devil’s advocate, to find the weak and missing points in my arguments; thanks, as always, for keeping me honest, babe!) There are subtle points that conceptual artists can make that are of value and difficult to express fully or eloquently through other means of communication. Sometimes, the concepts explored are important or interesting ones, even if they are too obscurely or affectedly expressed. There are also accidents of beauty and visual interest that occur when an artist is playing freely with materials trying to express something else. And so on and so on.

But nonetheless, I feel that the conceptual art world needs more critics. It needs some competition, it needs some opposition, and I feel just fine in my overall feeling of antipathy to it as it is right now. Conceptual art (with its cousin, abstract art) has its defenders in plenty: namely, nearly every art gallery and museum and patron with deep pockets out there. The representational artists, the visual storytellers, the communicators in paint and clay and fabric and stone and wood trying to reach the widest audience, they’re not honored so much these days, except in the hearts of the grateful public who’s always happy to find artists who are direct and honest with them, who desire to satisfy their longing for beauty and love of a good story. In short, conceptuality in art has become the new paradigm, the new standard, the new orthodoxy. Conceptual art doesn’t suffer from one less champion; the rest of the art world could do with more.

So from the roughest cave painting of our earliest human ancestors to the most finely wrought work by Leonardo da Vinci, from the earthy Venus of Willendorf to the most exquisitely sculpted Michelangelo, from the doll’s dress of the youngest stitcher-in-training to the Parisian couture gown, and from the memory rag-quilt sewn in the half-light of a bayou shack to the most intricate, hand-stitched fine textile work fit for a queen you ever saw: I want to say, I love you the most. Thank you for the joy you bring me, the delight to my senses, and most of all, the communion with the wider world of things and people. Thank you for bridging the gaps.

Submit to Ordinary Philosophy!

Hello you thoughtful people out there who also love to write!

Ordinary Philosophy is my little blog that’s all about thinking through the Big Questions that arise from being a conscious, curious being in a vast, fascinating universe, and a social being whose life is filled with ethical quandaries and the ups and downs of cooperation and conflict. Examples of the sort of ‘Big Questions I’m talking about:

‘What is the universe, and is everything that can be talked about a part of it?’
‘What’s it like to feel/think/love/experience this?’
‘What is Beauty / Justice / the Self?’
‘How do we know what we know, and what is “knowing” anyway?’….
‘What is a good life, and how do I go about living it?’

We all confront these questions every day, and I think all of us come up with some pretty deep questions and some pretty interesting answers to them throughout our lives. Some of these we come up with when thinking about situations we personally have experienced or just heard about. Some we derive from the thoughts of others, reading, considering, then responding with our own critiques and defenses.

So I’d like to invite you to share your own essays, critiques, meditations, and so forth. They can deal with all manner of topics, from music and art (aesthetics), to politics and law, to culture and the humanities, to naturalism and theology, to the incredible and the humdrum occurrences of everyday experience. Philosophy is about everything, really. My favorite definition of philosophy I’ve heard (thanks, Daniel Dennett!) was formulated by Wilfred Sellers: “The aim of philosophy… is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” 

This is an amateur philosophy blog, though if professional philosophers want to take part, I would be thrilled too! I’m saying amateur in the sense that here at Ordinary Philosophy, the posts are aimed at a non-academic audience, using (mostly) ordinary language, for the edification of anyone who wishes to read it. I’m also (unusually, for philosophy forums) more focused here on original philosophy, with ideas drawn directly from life and from other arenas and disciplines, be it science, the news, politics, theology, arts and culture, and so forth, rather than work derived more from other philosophical works (though I value and would accept for posting the latter too).

Works submitted for publication on this blog must relate to some Big Question(s), and / or offer argument in favor of some position or other (not just mere opinions or preferences). They must demonstrate some good, honest thinking, not name-calling and mud-slinging, and while pieces can be strongly worded as needed for the topic at hand, no ad hominem attacks allowed! (Ad hominem is the name of a logical fallacy where you seek to disprove an argument or position by attacking or undermining the person, not the argument the person is making.) No preaching either, please. And yes, it is my blog, so it’s up to me to decide what to include. That being said, I’m also a very democratically-minded person, so I will be happy to include pieces with content I don’t agree with so long as it’s in line with the aforementioned simple rules. 

So send that good stuff your brain makes my way! 

To: ordinaryphilosophy (at) gmail (dot) com