Receiving and giving
To construct a philosophy of living project, we first identify some area of our lives that we would like to work on, some growth frontier. It is important to be realistic, not take on too much, but the greatest growth usually comes from focusing on our front-burner issue, the problem that would most leverage our growth if we could turn it around. We do not obsess over our weakness, but state the goal in positive terms. We can benefit from study, enjoy new insights, and write up a short paper at the end, but the number one essential is to do things to provide the fulcrum for change.
Artistic living is a part of the path that is part of walking in beauty, but there is beauty in truth and goodness, too. Artistic living cannot flourish in isolation from these other dimensions of value.
1. Context. Artistic living is beautiful living, set amid the realization of truth and the activities of goodness. In their fullness, each stage in the seven-fold path mapped out in this philosophy of living includes all the others. Thus artistic living, although it includes vacations, is not a vacation from scientific living, philosophical living, spiritual living, living amid the beauties of nature, morally active living, or living in a character unified by love.
2. Kinds of virtue. There are aesthetic virtues comparable to intellectual and moral virtues. The paradigm of artistic activity that I emphasize involves appreciating the achievements of others, intelligent design or planning, and liberated performance or action. The intuitive, liberated, and spontaneous character of artistic living at its best is rooted in great decisions which express great concepts which are the fruit of struggle and growth. The decisions form the core of the design component essential to trustworthy spontaneity. Virtues developed in one area are useful in others. Aesthetic virtues observable via biographies of Johann Sebastian Bach include cultivation of talent, keen intellectual development, ability to teach, ability to express emotional and spiritual depth, a sense of humor, excellence in appreciating the works of others, excellence in design, and excellence in performance.
3. Many kinds of example. Beauty may be found in activities as diverse as humor, play, sports, gardening, and the fine arts. There is an artistic way of doing things, from the art of arranging data in a scientific report to an artistic way of composing our various duties into a reasonable, doable, and harmonious order (so that we don’t get overwhelmed or burden ourselves with excessively high expectations). There is beauty in the very quest for artistic living, amid confusion, resistance, tentative steps, and fleeting successes.
4. The correlation of value reality and human experience. Beauty is what elicits pleasure, enjoyment, delight, joy, rejoicing. There is some positive affect, even for the mind of perfect poise, some good-humored smile. This does not mean that we must artificially adopt a stock set of crystallized emotions and repress the full spectrum of human feeling. What about the times when joy is impossible? There is also a beautiful way of undergoing the awful times when beauty is humanly eclipsed: then suffering is fully human, and, after it is truly finished, there arises from the ashes the sense that, as all who work together in goodness do what they can and will do, a preponderance of good prevails. There is not just a raw contraposition of beauty and ugliness. On the whole, artistic living abides in a balance of joy.
5. Freedom. One enjoys a sense of freedom, perhaps just a marginal awareness or feeling, that carries the individual beyond slavish engrossment in the desideratum. Composure can design a course of action, and there is a rhythm of engagement (cf. “flow” or being “in the zone”) and reflective distancing. At its height, artistic living is spontaneous, not an affair of artificial cultivation, like a fartlek (a Swedish term referring to a run, not around a track, but at freely varying velocities over differing terrain), sprinting, charging up a hill, loping in a meadow, in the flow of exertion and the confidence of energy replenishment.
6. Attitude. A surprising majority of students reporting on biographies of great persons in the arts found that the artists, musicians, writers, and others whom they studied had very great struggles in their lives, yet managed to bring forth beauty. Artistic living exercises a positive attitude to the universe and life as a whole. There comes a zest for problem-solving.
7. No mere means. Artistic living does not attempt to fashion the self into a mere means for others’ aesthetic pleasure or try to make one’s life into a spectacle for others’ enjoyment. Nevertheless, artistic living finds ways to add an embellishing touch to give others an enhanced experience of what is being presented to them.
8. Meaning and value in everything. In even the humblest of tasks (which most obviously would not be chosen were it not as a means to some further end) one can find a dimension of value, even supreme value. Nor is there any dead end. No end, no finite terminus, however lofty, is final. After the realization of any intrinsic good, there is always more.
9. Motivation. Artistic living is motivated by love.
10. A long tradition has thought of the arts in a way that dissociates making from doing. On this view, going back at least to Aristotle, making was a merely instrumental activity, whose product was external to the maker. In ancient Athens, where manufacturing was assigned to slaves, such a separation is understandable, but familiarity with the devotion and skills that can be invested in crafts, even slicing fish for sushi, dissipates this compartmentalization. A better hypothesis is that in every sort of activity one can find both intrinsic value and instrumental value. In other words, there is something inherently worthwhile to be found in any (moral) activity, while the most intrinsically worthy activity has beneficial repercussions beyond itself.
My aesthetics website has more resources.
Photo credit: http://mrg.bz/8JMlnp by grietgriet