Art is a Tool

Michael Daniel Dr. Caulder 3/9/2007

2 It has been said that, “The important thing about art is not what it does to us but what it does for us.” For something to be considered art there must be an audience who uses it as art. To use something as art the audience must observe and analyze the it in order to arrive at an understanding of it. This paper will explore how each understanding of a work of art is a tool that can be used to help the audience in their daily lives. Economists tell us that the more tools we have and the more skilled we are at using those tools, the more productive we are. The more productive we are, the more assets we control which increases our wealth. As wealth increases in the aggregate, so does our collective standard of living.1 An understanding of art increases our standard of living by creating emotional and informational understanding. More than one understanding can come from observing a single piece of art and each understanding is a tool that can be used to increase productivity. In this way, a single work of art can function as a machinist’s tool that is used to create many other tools. “Labor Productivity” is the amount of output a worker can create per unit of input used. For example, a farmer who creates 50 bushels of cotton from 10 acres of land is more productive than a farmer who creates 100 bushels of cotton from 100 acres of land. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to labor productivity as “productivity” throughout this paper. “Human Capital” is the term used by economists to describe how skill and knowledge can improve the productive powers of a population.2 For example, a doctor is generally known to possess more human capital than a nurse. “Physical Capital” is the term used to describe equipment that a worker uses to increase their productivity.3 A
1 2

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, Microeconomics (New York, NY: Cathereine Woods, 2005) 479 - 483 Microeconomics, G-3 3 Microeconomics, G-6

3 worker with a harvester is said to possess more physical capital than a worker with a sickle. A work of art falls under the category of physical capital and the skill of the audience falls under the category of human capital. A popular use of art is to manipulate the emotions of the audience. This is a useful function. Charles Darwin theorized that emotions arise from natural selection and are necessary for the survival of our species.4 Robert Plutchik is a psychologist who believes that there are eight primary emotions that are the basis for all other emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, curiosity, acceptance and joy. 5 Each of these emotions is associated with a survival value. For example, fear motivates flight and anger motivates violence. Cognitive science shows us that positive emotional states, or high morale, make us more productive.6 This is why sports teams have cheerleaders and military units have morale officers. Under normal circumstances, the tool of high morale can be created at any time that the audience has access to art that creates this emotional state. Art can be used to create a negative emotional state, or low morale, in the audience to decrease productivity for the purpose of psychological warfare, for example.7 In art therapy, re-evaluation counseling uses art that creates negative emotional states in order to help a patient to discharge painful emotions through crying, shaking, and sweating.8 Re-evaluation counseling works on the psychological principle that many people who feel bad want to listen to music that creates negative emotional states because

Wikipedia, “Emotions” (accessed 2/21/2007) 5 Wikipedia, “Emotions” (accessed 2/21/2007) 6 Joe Santamaria, interview by author, December 27, 2006 7 Wikipedia, “Psychological Warfare” (accessed 2/21/2007) 8 Wikipedia, “Psychological Warfare” (accessed 2/21/2007)

4 it intensifies the bad feeling in such a way that they can identify it. Once a negative emotional state is identified they understand what is happening to them emotionally. Self-understanding leads to positive emotional states. In this way, music that creates negative emotions in the short run can create positive emotions in the long run, thereby increasing productivity. Art that conveys truth about our own emotional state creates the positive emotional state of love. Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt is a professor of moral philosophy at Princeton. He made the argument that everybody must love truth when he said that: Spinoza explained the nature of love as follows: “Love is nothing but the idea of joy together with an external cause.” As for the definition of “joy”, he stipulated that it is, “what follows that passion by which the… [individual] passes to a greater perfection.”… Without access to truths concerning their own individual natures, their particular capacities and needs, and the availability and correct use of the resources they require in order to survive and to flourish, people would have very serious difficulty with their lives… And, to the extent that we recognize what dealing effectively with life entails, we can not help loving truth.9 One passes to a greater perfection when they discover and/or exercise capabilities that they may not have been able to exercise in the past. To illustrate: One knows that when they press a key on this keyboard a character appears on the screen which corresponds to the key they pressed. This is a truth that they possess. The individual with this knowledge will love their knowledge of this truth because it allows them to write papers, which allows them to pass to a greater perfection. In the same way, if I am upset I might play a brooding, angry song such as the Nine Inch Nails song “Closer”. That song would intensify my emotional state to a point where I can identify it and deal with my emotions. If that were to happen then the song “Closer” would have conveyed truth about my individual nature, capacity and needs. It is that truth which I love, as the

Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt, On Truth (New York, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006) 39, 40, 46, 48

5 more self-aware I am the closer I am to achieving a greater perfection. As Dr. Begres said at the end of her epistemology course, “Know yourself.” Art can also be used to express truths about the artist. The American Art Therapy Association says that, “the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”10 In this way, the artist uses expression to increase positive emotional states, which increases productivity. For the professional artist, art serves a dual purpose in that it can also be used to measure productivity, since art itself the product that is created. Leslie Fish’s song, “Black Powder and Alcohol” is an example of a song that both provides us with truth and increases morale. The lyrics include instructions for making black powder and alcohol. The song tells us that if civilization ever crumbles these will be useful things to have around.11 The song is a march, which is a rhythm that can be used to help us to perform manual labor at a steady tempo. Historically, marches have been used to aid in hiking over long distances. The song imparts a feeling of determination upon the audience through its use of rhythm and the timbre of Leslie Fish’s voice. This song is a great tool because it creates a positive mental state, sets a tempo that we can work to and provides us with truths about how to use resources. Art can contain truth about our resources and how to use them properly. They can also create positive emotional states, such as a declaration of affection. Morse code is a percussive rhythm that is used to spell out letters, words and phrases. During war the Greek, Roman and medieval commanders used trumpets to command their armies in the

10 11

The American Art Therapy Association, (accessed 2/21/2007) Prometheus Music, (accessed 2/21/2007)

6 battlefield. Brands, tattoos, hairstyles and clothing choices have been used to identify members of certain subcultures. Graffiti is used to mark territory by gangs, or to communicate specific messages about the surrounding area by hobos. Cryptography and steganography use art to obfuscate messages, which frees the author of the message to write things that they would only ever want the recipient to hear. This is useful, for example, if one wanted to write a love letter to their girlfriend or boyfriend. One would probably write such a letter differently if they knew that the entire world would be able to read it. Privacy increases the intimacy inherent in such a message. This is also useful for keeping state secrets safe from enemies. The only unbreakable encryption known to the field of cryptography uses art. The algorithm is called the single-use pad. 12 A single-use pad takes a message and interweaves data from a work of art in order to obfuscate the original message. Steganogrpahy uses pictures and songs to hide messages rather than encrypting them.13 Art can be found in the most mundane of places. For example, look at the financial section of the newspaper. The stock chart has all of the same elements of a painting in that it has lines, colors and shapes. People use it as art because they observe it, interpret it and come to an understanding of it. The truths conveyed by a stock chart can create emotion, as was seen in the Great Depression when stock brokers jumped out of windows. The truths from a stock chart can also create positive emotions by showing people that they have made more money than they had expected. Stock charts, then, have the same qualities that paintings do.

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Rice University, (accessed 2/21/2007) Sourceforge, (accessed 2/21/2007)

7 Many people would reject the idea that a stock chart is art because they can not identify an artist. One response to that is that a stock chart is ready made art, or found object art, but that would not be correct either, since people were involved in the creation of the stock chart. The marketplace is the artist, since it created the stock chart by creating the price points which are plotted in the chart. Stock charts have more artists involved in creating them than any other form of art. The benefits to the market fit the American Art Therapy Association’s description of the effects of artistic self-expression in that it conveys the following benefits to the market: It “helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develops interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness and achieves insight.”14 Many investors believe in “technical analysis.” Technical analysts believe that all useful information about a stock can be gathered from an analysis of the price chart.15 Increased profitability, good and bad news, gains and losses of market share are all factored into the price of the stock, which shows up on the chart. Technical analysts, or “chartists” as they are called on Wall Street, believe that they can predict whether the price of a stock will rise or fall based solely on the chart. A technical analyst may come to more than one understanding while reading a chart. For example, an increase in price can either be a long-term gain, or a “short squeeze”, which pushes the price up temporarily while people scramble to buy the stock in order to pay back a loan of stock that they previously obtained in order to bet against the stock price increasing. An increase in value has different implications than a short squeeze has so the analyst must weigh the different interpretations and come to a conclusion before he acts on his

14 15

The American Art Therapy Association, (accessed 2/21/2007) Investopedia, (accessed 2/21/2007)

8 analysis. The stock chart is a challenging piece of art to understand. It requires expertise to interpret, much like avant garde art. The avant garde is concerned with examining our definitions of art. Noise, Dadaism and conceptual art challenge us to understand them. Many people do not consider these things to be art. People who say that these things are not art are simply not inspired to use them as art. The audience might observe a Dadaist work such as Duchamps Fountain and they may even try to analyze it, but if they reach no understanding of it then the piece is not art to them. To an open-minded audience, noise can be art. They listen intently for a feeling or a message contained within the noise and they can come to an understanding of it. The more artistically knowledgeable the audience is, the more understandings they can take from one work of art. For example, Michaelangelo’s David is a sculpture of a young man. We can look at it and understand that David is symmetric, well built and dignified. He is an example of what most men would aspire to look like. If we had information about the stone used in the David, though, we could obtain information about where Michaelangelo got the materials for the carving. We could extrapolate on that by learning what tools would be best used to carve that kind of stone and we could use that information to create similar sculptures. This is a level of understanding which we can not attain without having knowledge of sculpture. In order to attain more understandings of art we need to study the world around us. This does not necessarily mean that we should all study art exclusively. For example, a degree in art would probably not involve a study of the technical analysis of a stock chart, but we can attain more understandings from the stock chart if we were familiar with technical analysis. At the same time, we

9 could not understand many things at a conceptual art show if we did not have knowledge of conceptual art. When we are stuck or frustrated at work we should use art to inspire and inform us in the same way that our top business leaders have used it. Don Asher said that most MBA students hold liberal arts undergraduate degrees. Ted Turner, the media mogul, has a bachelor’s degree in classical studies. Asher also said that some of the most successful CEOs and company presidents hold liberal arts bachelors degrees. Liberal arts are not generally thought of as having any direct application to business. We often hear fine arts majors complain about the prospect of being a “starving artist” after graduation. This conventional wisdom that fine arts do not apply to business is incorrect. Fine arts classes teach a student to be more efficient at using the tool of art. The tool of art is used to increase productivity. In the business world, productivity is the foundation for all ventures. It is no wonder, then, that some of the most successful business people in the world have a background in fine arts. To an open-minded, artistically knowledgeable audience, art is the most plentiful resource in the world. Everything has the capacity to become art. Whenever an audience is willing to look for deeper emotional and informational content in an object they are instilling it with qualities of art. When a deeper understanding is achieved by the audience the object becomes art.

Works Cited:
1. 2005 Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, Microeconomics. New York, Cathereine Woods,

10 2. Wikipedia, “Emotions” (accessed 2/21/2007) 3. 4. Joe Santamaria, interview by author, December 27, 2006 Wikipedia, “Psychological Warfare” (accessed 2/21/2007) 5. 6. Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt, On Truth. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006 The American Art Therapy Association,

(accessed 2/21/2007) 7. Prometheus Music,

(accessed 2/21/2007) 8. Rice University,

notes/31.pdf (accessed 2/21/2007) 9. Sourceforge, (accessed

2/21/2007) 10. Investopedia,

(accessed 2/21/2007)