izhilzha (izhilzha) wrote,
izhilzha
izhilzha

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Intellect vs. Art

An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way. --Charles Bukowski


I really wanted to write something profound on this topic, but I find that the quote has neatly covered most of what I wanted to say. I'll try to explicate why I find this so fascinating, though. It's something that really tends to bother me--especially when I find myself talking to an artist who doesn't get the intellectual side of things, or an intellectual who doesn't realize the artist's side of things even exists.

(Disclaimer: I do realize that very few people are one or the other; most fall somewhere between the far ends of this spectrum.)

"An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way."

"Difficult," here, means hard to comprehend, something out of the normal mode of perception. What the intellectual loves is finding out what makes things work, being able to trace and decipher the components and process of something. That might be the universe (physics, philosophy), the human body (biology, medicine), the human mind (psychology, neurology).... They ask, "What makes this happen? What things must occur for this to take place? What is this made of?"

That's heady, important, fascinating stuff. I'm not strictly an intellectual, and have little aptitude for disciplines such as mathematics, but I do love hearing about advancements in physics or medicine, about the latest research into our cosmos or the behavior of light. Knowing the building blocks of something can make me appreciate it all the more, can infuse my knowledge of the world with even greater wonder.

But if the focus is too tight, it can cause me to miss the forest for the trees. A human being is not just the atoms or elementary particles that make up its cells, and light is not just particles/waves.

"An artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way."

I do love the use of the word "difficult" in this context. What the artist strives for most is expression--communication. He may be intrigued by the building blocks of things, especially if that knowledges gives him a new perspective, takes him behind appearances. But that's secondary to his real focus, which is on images and patterns, meaning and metaphor. It is the business of the artist to take masses of information and figure out a way to present it that enables comprehension.

He asks, "What does this mean? How does this relate to human life, to social life, to history? How do we experience this, and what does that mean?" I'm living proof of this; my university notebooks are full of scribbles where I connected with the material in a class on history, religion, or philosophy by turning the concepts into story ideas. If I could consider it in the light of personal experience, I could come to a fuller understanding of the concept.

But if the focus is too diffuse, if the artist can't take reason and knowledge into account, her work won't have the grounding it needs to stay in touch with truth.

Small wonder the intellectual and the artist tend to clash. The first is all about facts, things that are provable and solid. The second is all about image, about abstraction, about making comparisons that enable understanding. I wish that both could work together more than I see them do at present--science and the intellect informing our art, and art working to describe and impart the essence of what lies behind us and our universe.

The best I can do is try to embrace both.
Tags: art, contemplative, real life, writing
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