Philosophy in art
Tagore instead of searching for a perfect definition of art or pointing out different uses of art, he emphasized the reason for the existence of art. The utility of an art has been misunderstood and misinformed. The purposes of art that people commonly associate with are that they are expressions of society, objects of beauty for appreciation, and so on. Instead, he looks at it from an anthropomorphic point of view. That it is a means to human growth or progress. This is where he presents the idea of personal man. It is that aspect of a human being that links him or her from the rest of the human existence. It is different from say, intellectual man, which cares about gaining knowledge about the world – creating a world of facts, propositions, etc. of its own. The structure through which the personal man connects with the world is called personality. In other words, personality is the medium through which the consciousness (it is the centre of a person) interacts with the world. The external world does not necessarily mean the world we know but also synonymous with life or as Tagore sometime uses ‘thou’ to represent it. In other times he uses the ‘Supreme Person’ to whom the consciousness makes the connection with or as Tagore poetically put it – sends its answers.
When we see an art and engages with it to ‘understand’ it, what we are talking about is the philosophy of art. We are putting together the meaning conveyed through the art object. In the process, we miss out another dimension of art. That is doing philosophy in art. The art is itself a means to do philosophy in itself. When we look at a piece of art, it becomes a medium for our personal growth even though understanding of art (philosophy through art) may facilitate to the process of growth. This brings in the question of what is an artist’s role.
From the perspective of the artist.
The art is in some sort a display of human personality, for it has similar 2 elements. At least, good art is. Tagore has remarked upon how the public buildings in the times of the Britishers’ rule were so abstract and devoid of any expression. Compared to that, the buildings in the Mughal period were artistic in its expression – the personality of Mughal emperors was displayed on their buildings. This made the buildings look for vibrant, rich, and humane. A civilization that thinks of a place their home would want to add or reflect their own personalities into the things around. Art becomes the natural mode for such expressiveness. Secondly, because the human beings differ from the animals on that point that they contain the huge reservoir of emotions needed to be expressed even after their basic needs have been met. The world of art benefits in expression the wealth of emotions to both the artists and the appreciators of the art.
The duty of an artist then follows to tap into those emotional expressions of our personalities, which would make it possible to have the unity between the art and the personality of a person appreciating the art. This leads to the classic discussion of ‘art for art’s sake.’
Art for art’s sake, and Art in context.
Historically people have been against the enjoyment of art as an end in itself. It even considered immoral and sin across many traditions, such as Puritanism. The desire to delight in the art is perfectly natural, according to Tagore. If compromised upon the desire for delight for only using art as a means to fulfil the desire to know, or to do good, then the power, for the lack of a better term, of feeling delighted decreases.
There are elements in art that allow us to take delight in it. They are unique to art. Often, a piece of art is judged by the element of beauty. The beauty has become the sole motive behind the creation of art. This had created this whole discussion of what is the more important matter of art or the manner of art. Instead, what Tagore is prescribing is, the true principle of art is unity. When the art and the personality of the person looking at the piece of art find its unity or the harmonics of both are similar, there is a unity of matter and manner, thoughts and things, motives and actions. This is the truest purpose of art that people have forgotten that Tagore has a good job of reminding us.