Art is the only legitimate science of man. Yet art is always implicit, it is information in immediate action, explaining nothing. Great works of art articulate our innermost emotions and values. They speak straight to us, bypassing the diversions and detours of intellectual processes. Beauty creates trust in the message. It is the hallmark of truth while beauty criteria are a measure of the spiritual level of the beholder. Art conveys knowledge about man; it can reflect all humanity as well as individual peculiarities in their limitless variety.
Great works of art are lasting channels of information, linking one sender to
countless receivers widely scattered in time and space. Art aspires to an
autonomous existence when, like a revelation, it surpasses the intentions of its
maker. The message is presented in a self-codified language where form and
content are axiomatically intertwined, and must be simultaneously decoded. We
can talk around a work of art but never unravel it in so many words. Beauty is,
like truth, a prospective property, a profound but elusive veracity which gives
the lie to all attempts at systematic deciphering.
When asked about the right way to compose music, Ludwig van Beethoven replied: “Every note should be unexpected when it is struck but obvious and indeed inevitable once it has been played”. This is as good a theory of art as any, and perhaps the most concise. Why should every note be unexpected? Because otherwise it would be a trivial superfluity, adding nothing new to the composition. Why must the note be “inevitable”? Because otherwise it would be arbitrary noise, misrepresenting and disfiguring the message. The implicit rule of the game should unfold with each and every discrete move.
Beethoven’s criterion does not serve as a prescription for producing art, but it can help us to recognize charlatans – pretentious posturing, bare-faced bluff and obvious nonsense. As in so many analogous cases a clear understanding of the rules has a cleansing effect even if Beethoven, in his laconic definition of art, makes no allowance for human limitations. He assumes perfect intelligence and an immediate understanding and integration of the message – truly a game for gods. Ordinary mortals learn more slowly, one word at a time. Peerless Chinese poetry leaves most Westerners sadly unmoved; we have not mastered even the rudiments of the refined rules of the calligraphic language game.
A crucial concept in all communication is redundancy which is a measure of repeated and basically superfluous information. If there is no redundancy, a message cannot be checked; every separate sign is axiomatic and the piece of art becomes indistinguishable from a random sequence of data. Any error that slips in because of some fault in the transmission will become irreversibly established. Self-induced learning becomes virtually impossible because the hermeneutic approach depends on a certain amount of reiteration. The surplus information provides a starting-point in the search for meaningful patterns – the nature of the game.
Artist are always, in some sense, expressions of their times but they are also restricted by the ability of their audience to follow their lead. To promote understanding, at least within a narrow circle of cognoscenti, the rules of the game must be divulged in a perceptible style. Great art can penetrate a whole culture, albeit in a perfunctory manner. If formulae are ready to hand, the appropriate mannerisms become petrified in trite ornament and empty embellishment – meaningless repetition by programmable convention.
The problem of art (as well as science) is to compress and compact without undue distortion. Abundant redundancy in art and culture entails a sense of security and continuity, but it is also associated with exaggerated risk-aversion – satiety and stagnation. Absence of redundancy, on the other hand, induces anarchy and the collapse of collaborative play. A fine balance between the innovative development of the game and confidence-producing feedback is essential to the maintenance of artistic creativity, and equally to the viability of society as a whole.
The vernacular is extraordinary flexible but it cannot cope with literally
inexpressible issues. Literature, poetry as well as prose, is capable of
transmitting in words implicit information, way beyond that explicitly conveyed.
Forms and colors and pictures, still as well as moving, art in all its
multiplicity takes the measure of man in his entire complexity. Music, the most
abstract and most concrete of art forms, sets our psyche reverberating and helps
us to become one with our innermost emotions.
Only in retrospect is it possible to make out the enigmatic grammar of aesthetic languages, to discern the pattern of the cultural game. Here and now the cultural compass spins wildly, and every possible direction will have its eloquent advocates. In science, we can rely on nature providing the final verdict, but in art man is the only available arbiter: he must decide the truth about himself. Freedom of choice is our collective lot, and modern art rubs it in by throwing up a plethora of competing approaches. Each and everybody fights in Darwinian fashion for our attention, displaying their wares and values. We may prefer to sit on the fence, but only by absorbing our existential uncertainty can we steady the compass, choose our past, determine our position and stake out the future.
Great works of art are beacons of truth. The masterpiece becomes its own measure; its perceivable beauty an almost objective proof of the values embraced. Form without content is mere fashion, but rich content must be compressed in a faithful form to produce beautiful truth. Genuine art enunciates the cultural game; gives form to latent propensities; enters into autocatalytic interplay with the human environment. The meta-rules of the community assume sensual shape – art is the supreme cultural science. Purely aesthetic games play truant from the realities of life; the artist should create what the public needs, not what it wants.
Genuine art subjugates time. It is a form of vicarious life; in enjoying art, we are having our cake and eating it. Just as science tries to uncover the rules of all the mundane games, so too art takes the measure of man. In a work of art, the implicit rule of the game should unfold in every aspect, in every distinct move. The first command is to avoid false play and let the intrinsic intentions – the artist’s better self – out into the open. However hard the artist tries to divulge his or her secret, the deepest message is perceptible only in the light of empathic compassion.
The artist and the scientist have a common problem – how to simplify without distorting, how to condense and compress without deforming. Great art expresses truth as compelling beauty. The essence is communicated with optimal information economy; the work is perfected when nothing remains to be removed. Even if art usually has local roots, the highest manifestations can travel far beyond national or regional borderlines. The artistic idiom is, at bottom, a universal language which can help us to understand each other and find a common ground.
Mathematics, as we know it, is identical with developments in the
corresponding language games. The actors of natural sciences are less
transparent but in view of the immutability of the rules, their play can and
should be re presented in relatively simple and unambiguous mathematical terms.
The human essence of our condition can be communicated only by means of
artistically efficient language games, which at best correspond to hidden
realities – or rather, they present a more convincing actuality. Art and
mathematics have more in common than meets the eye. Good literature, painting,
and music is human self-realization, just as mathematical statements do not
describe but are mathematics.
Authentic art abhors the analytic distance of commonplace symbolism. Potent works of art speak in a primitive proto-language and strike the psyche of the perceptive recipient with the immediacy of an injection or a scent. Art does not speak about things or about life, it speaks things and life. It instigates a creative process just as the genetic script initiates a cascade of distinct material moves: art is information in immediate action.
The artist cultivates all the indeterminate, indefinable and mysterious aspects of our existence; for every occasion he or she creates his or her own language, roundly eclipsing the vernacular. This implies the sacrifice of practical relevance, and thus of any chance of objective quality control. Ordinary language never gets further than a fairly inarticulate or possibly exalted stammer in projecting the multidimensional structure of art. Art languages are the supreme cultural sciences, subject only to self-imposed rules in their rendition of ineffable realities.
Great art is the culmination of linguistic development. Tautological surface logic is virtually absent: artistic information is predominantly implicit. The hallmark of art is the tangible but tacit communication of significant, self-illuminating messages. The trivial universality of the vernacular is laid aside and the complexities of the human condition are compacted into manifestations of subjective verity without loss of vital information. The objective generality of science has been transcended by triumphant value subjectivism.
The language of art penetrates our culturally conditioned mind with supreme self-sufficiency and enzymatic specificity, catalyzing processes of superior dignity, creating unique but elusive actualities. Here the language game reaches its apex, the convincing truth of beauty. But when the state of grace is lost, empty aestheticism takes over; form forfeits content, the inner light fades. Goethe’s and Hesse’s Castalia, a Utopian community of high-minded but emasculated artists, relinquishes its relevance for want of a compassionate artistic conscience. Let us listen to the 20-year-old Franz Kafka: “What we must have are those books which come upon us like ill fortune and distress us deeply, like the death of someone we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.”