Certainty and Art

The two great fundamentals of life are existence and consciousness: "What is it?" and "How do I know?" To handle life, you must know what things are, and you must know how you know. Since life is self-regulated action, you must make accurate identifications, and you must have the confidence to act on them.

Certainty is a requirement of good living. But it is not an end in itself. To feel confident of your mental habits is a great joy, but the real point is efficacy: the ability to get things done. Life does not consist of thinking thoughts, but of getting things done. You must feel sure of your thoughts so you can act on them and get things done.

Since basic identifications are a vital concern, an artistic display of a compatible view of things gives you pleasure. It conveys a message: this is how I think things could be and ought to be. The purpose of an artwork is not to send this message, but to create this reality. The artist creates for himself. It is your pleasure in that creation that produces the message.

Since confidence is a vital concern, any display of efficacy gives you pleasure. It conveys a message: if I can do it, you can do it. Skill that seems to do the impossible conveys an even stronger message: anything is possible.

That is why great art gives such intense pleasure. It embodies the two fundamentals at once: a view of reality, and efficacy in conveying that view. When you attend to art, you attend to the integration of content and means.

A painting by Vermeer shows an orderly human reality. It also shows breathtaking skill in recreating that reality on canvas. In a glance, it conveys an integrated message: ordinary life is noble, and anything is possible.

A symphony by Mozart suggests life-affirming moods and emotions. It also suggests consummate skill in arranging notes to do that. As you listen, you are aware of an integrated message: life is great, and anything is possible.

A statue by Michelangelo conveys the grandeur of the human body. It also conveys awesome skill in displaying that grandeur. You are aware of an integrated message: man is heroic, and anything is possible.

Art does not lecture you to get its message across. It does not argue or insist. It shows you. It creates for you an embodiment of the artist's thoughts and abilities. The embodiment is an end in itself. It does not exist to help you or teach you or harangue you. But if you are having difficulty learning to be confident in your ability to handle things, great art will show you that it can be done and that it is worth doing. Art will do this by giving you pleasure.

If you are having difficulty accepting that certainty is possible, attend to great art. You will experience certainty in every brush stroke, every note, every contour. You will experience certainty in the arrangement of objects in a still-life, in the progression of notes in a melody, in the balancing of planes in a sculpture. Everything in great art is as it is by conscious design. It all comes from the certain purpose of a mind.

Do you think it is hard to find examples of certainty achieved in the real world? It is easy. It is there to be enjoyed in all of great art.

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