Why does art exist? Who needs it? Indeed does anybody need it? These are questions asked not only by the poet, but also by anyone who appreciates art—or, in that current expression all too symptomatic of the twentieth-century relationship between art and its audience—the 'consumer'. In any case it is perfectly clear that the goal for all art—unless of course it is aimed at the 'consumer', like a saleable commodity—is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for, what is the meaning of his existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question.
To start with the most general consideration, it is worth saying that the indisputably functional role of art lies in the idea of knowing, where the effect is expressed as shock, as catharsis.
From the very moment when Eve ate the apple from the tree of knowledge, mankind was doomed to strive endlessly after the truth. First, as we know, Adam and Eve discovered they were naked. And they were ashamed. They were ashamed because they had understood; and then they set out on their way in the joy of knowing one another. That was the beginning of a journey that has no end.
One can understand how dramatic that moment was for those two souls, just emerged from the state of placid ignorance and thrown out into the vastness of the earth, hostile and inexplicable.
'With the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy bread . . . ' So it was that man, 'nature's crown', arrived on the earth in order to know why it was that he had appeared or been sent. And with man's help the Creator comes to know himself. This progress has been given the name of evolution, and it is accompanied by the agonising process of human self-knowledge.
In a very real sense every individual experiences this process for himself as he comes to know life, himself, his aims. Of course each person uses the sum of knowledge accumulated by humanity, but all the same the experience of ethical, moral self-knowledge is the only aim in life for each person, and, subjectively, it is experienced each time as something new. Again and again man correlates himself with the world, racked with longing to acquire and become one with, the ideal which lies outside him, which he apprehends as some kind of intuitively sensed first principle. The unattainability of that becoming one, the inadequacy of his own I, is the perpetual source of man's dissatisfaction and pain.
And so art, like science, is a means of assimilating the world, an instrument for knowing it in the course of man's journey towards what is called 'absolute truth'.
That, however, is the end of any similarity between these two embodiments of the creative human spirit, in which man does not merely discover, but creates. For the moment it is far more important to note the divergence, the difference in principle, between the two forms of knowing: scientific and aesthetic.
By means of art man takes over reality through a subjective experience. In science man's knowledge of the world makes its way up an endless staircase and is successively replaced by new knowledge, with one discovery often enough being disproved by the next for the sake of a particular objective truth. An artistic discovery occurs each time as a new and unique image of the world, a hieroglyphic of absolute truth. It appears as a revelation, as a momentary, passionate wish to grasp intuitively and at a stroke all the laws of this world—its beauty and ugliness, its compassion and cruelty, its infinity and its limitations. The artist expresses these things by creating the image, sui generis detector of the absolute. Through the image is sustained an awareness of the infinite: the eternal within the finite, the spiritual within matter, the limitless given form. [...]
In order to be engaged in any scientific system a person has to avail himself of logical processes of thought, he has to achieve an understanding, which requires as its starting point a particular kind of education. Art addresses everybody, in the hope of making an impression, above all of being felt, of being the cause of an emotional trauma and being accepted, of winning people not by incontrovertible rational argument but through the spiritual energy with which the artist has charged the work. And the preparatory discipline it demands is not a scientific education but a particular spiritual lesson.
Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the ideal: that longing which draws people to art. Modern art has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake. What purports to be art begins to look like an eccentric occupation for suspect characters who maintain that any personalised action is of intrinsic value simply as a display of self-will. But in artistic creation the personality does not assert itself, it serves another, higher and communal idea. The artist is always a servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. Modern man, however, does not want to make any sacrifice, even though true affirmation of self can only be expressed in sacrifice. We are gradually forgetting about this, and at the same time, inevitably, losing all sense of our human calling. . . .[...]
The only condition of fighting for the right to create is faith in your own vocation, readiness to serve, and refusal to compromise. Artistic creation demands of the artist that he 'perish utterly', in the full, tragic sense of those words. And so, if art carries within it a hieroglyphic of absolute truth, this will always be an image of the world, made manifest in the work once and for all time. And if cold, positivistic, scientific cognition of the world is like the ascent of an unending staircase, its artistic counterpoint suggests an endless system of spheres, each one perfect and contained within itself. One may complement or contradict another, but in no circumstances can they cancel each other out; on the contrary, they enrich one another, and accumulate to form an all-embracing sphere that grows out into infinity. These poetic revelations, each one valid and eternal, are evidence of man's capacity to recognise in whose image and likeness he is made, and to voice this recognition.
Moreover, the great function of art is communication, since mutual understanding is a force to unite people, and the spirit of communion is one of the most important aspects of artistic creativity. Works of art, unlike those of science, have no practical goals in any material sense. Art is a meta-language, with the help of which people try to communicate with one another; to impart information about themselves and assimilate the experience of others. Again, this has to do not with practical advantage but with realising the idea of love, the meaning of which is in sacrifice: the very antithesis of pragmatism. I simply cannot believe that an artist can ever work only for the sake of 'self-expression'. Self-expression is meaningless unless it meets with a response. For the sake of creating a spiritual bond with others it can only be an agonising process, one that involves no practical gain: ultimately, it is an act of sacrifice. But surely it cannot be worth the effort merely for the sake of hearing one's own echo?
Of course intuition plays a part in science as it does in art, and this might seem to be a common element in these contrasting modes of mastering reality. However, despite its great importance in each case, intuition is not at all the same phenomenon in poetic creativity as it is in scientific research.
Equally, the term understanding denotes quite different things in these two spheres of activity. Understanding in a scientific sense means agreement on a cerebral, logical level; it is an intellectual act akin to the process of proving a theorem.
Understanding an artistic image means an aesthetic acceptance of the beautiful, on an emotional or even supra-emotional level.
The scientist's intuition, even if it is like an illumination, an inspiration, will still always be a code standing for a logical deduction. It will mean that not all of the various readings based on the available information have been registered; they are being taken as read, held in the memory, not figuring as already processed data. In other words, knowledge of the law as pertaining in a certain area of science has allowed for some of the intermediate stages to be skipped.
And even though a scientific discovery may seem to be the result of inspiration, the inspiration of the scientist has nothing in common with that of the poet.
For the empirical process of intellectual cognition cannot explain how an artistic image comes into being—unique, indivisible, created and existing on some plane other than that of the intellect.
Here it is a question of agreeing on terminology.
In science, at the moment of discovery, logic is replaced by intuition. In art, as in religion, intuition is tantamount to conviction, to faith. It is a state of mind, not a way of thinking. Science is empirical, whereas the conception of images is governed by the dynamic of revelation. It's a question of sudden flashes of illumination — like scales falling from the eyes; not in relation to the parts, however, but to the whole, to the infinite, to what does not fit into conscious thought.
Art does not think logically, or formulate a logic of behaviour; it expresses its own postulate of faith. If in science it is possible to substantiate the truth of one's case and prove it logically to one's opponents, in art it is impossible to convince anyone that you are right if the created images have left him cold, if they have failed to win him with a newly discovered truth about the world and about man, if in fact, face to face with the work, he was simply bored.
And what are moments of illumination if not momentarily felt truth?
The meaning of religious truth is hope. Philosophy seeks the truth, defining the meaning of human activity, the limits of human reason, the meaning of existence, even when the philosopher reaches the conclusion that existence is senseless, and human effort—futile. The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good. Touched by a masterpiece, a person begins to hear in himself that same call of truth which prompted the artist to his creative act. When a link is established between the work and its beholder, the latter experiences a sublime, purging trauma. Within that aura which unites masterpieces and audience, the best sides of our souls are made known, and we long for them to be freed. In those moments we recognise and discover ourselves, the unfathomable depths of our own potential, and the furthest reaches of our emotions.
extras din Sculpting in Time, Andrey Tarkovsky, Chapter II, Art - a yearning for an ideal