The Strange Loop of Art

June 1, 2008


“Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile” – Hippocrates

(“Life is short, the craft long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.”)

Drawing Hands - M. C. Escher
Drawing Hands by M.C. Escher

Does an artist create art or does art create an artist? Ever since I asked myself the question a few years ago, the answer has seemed to be “both simultaneously.” As an artist practices her art over time, the art reciprocates by refining her skills and influencing her aesthetic judgment. Gradually the painter’s hands become one with the paintbrush, the flute becomes an extension of the flautist’s lips, and the harpist’s fingers meld with the strings of the harp. As surely as a sculptor carves, chisels and sands a block of marble into an elegant sculpture, the marble shapes his raw talent into informed perspective and nuanced judgment.

Almost every aspect of life can be approached as an art at an abstract level. Any field that requires acquisition and refinement of skills over time can be considered an art, whether music, writing, mathematics, sports, human relationships, research, engineering, skilled trades, or the visual arts. By being creative and developing innovative variations over time, one can bring an artistic flair to otherwise mundane tasks such as cooking, driving, yard work, and grocery shopping.

Research in psychology has shown that it takes at least ten years to develop expertise in any area of practice. Moreover, experts tend to approach their discipline differently than amateurs in the field, applying more intuition and spending less time on basic analysis. Any endeavour worth pursuing requires dedication, keen focus, patience and perseverance. While the art takes a lifelong commitment from the artist, it rewards her with an intuitive grasp and mastery that allows her to practice it with rare finesse and sophistication.

Life can be seen as a process of learning and practicing a wide array of arts. While attaining mastery may be the end goal in each art, experience gained along the journey is to be savoured. It allows us to develop as human beings and is, after all, what makes life unpredictable and exciting.