Roger Taylor starts off his book “Beyond Art” by blandly asserting
Today many people enjoy a wide range of dancing, film, literature, music and visual art.
Ok. We “enjoy” it. But where does this pleasure come from? Taylor argues this way. Art is a form of intellectual transportation. It transports us from our reality to a different place. In that place, we experience things that engage us. We are enriched by both the learning (seeing new things) as well as the experience itself (the thrill of the ride).
But is art the only such mode of transportation? Do we need artists to provide escape from lives without diversion? Taylor thinks not and to the extent that we give art this monopoly, he argues that we impoverish ourselves. So how do we gain more control of this transportation process?
Good question. It has to do with better understanding how our imaginations work. When we imagine something (like a bird flying over a meadow), we give the scene reality. We allow it an existence, and hence we give up for the moment the truth that the bird and the meadow actually do not exist. We all have this capacity and we all use this capacity every day. This is how we give life its beauty or ugliness. We can get lost in what we conjure as easily as we can get lost in the woods. Or we can use this as a guide to enrich our contact with the real world. To be the artists of our own life stories. To be at ease in the home of our imaginations.
But here is where things get weird. We tend not to value what we create from our imaginations the way we value, let’s say a Picasso painting. In other words, experiencing a Picasso painting supposedly transports us much more effectively than we can transport ourselves. So much so, that people are eager to pay huge sums of money to own and look at these paintings.
Why do we give these artifacts such value? Is it because the man Picasso was so much beyond us? That only by experiencing his art can we get such an imaginative thrill ride? Or dare we ask whether it is simply because we imagine it to be so?
That my friend, is a rather provocative question. Let’s go a step farther. Perhaps Picasso understood that aficionados of art needed to create Picasso the super artist to open the doors of perception to what it might be like to live with such enhanced sensibilities. Perhaps the real genius of Picasso was to create Picasso the artist that we treasure so highly. If we imagine this Picasso to be part of the conversation here, he might argue that it matters not that it was all a fraud. A conjuring act. We can imagine far more now and are better off than we would be without the conjuring.
Mr. Taylor would argue that this is bull to the extent that it traps us into devaluing our own capacities. And I would agree that we are foolish to accept this all as truth. Using imagination is a process that may connect us to truth but is not the truth itself. One might say that it is the opposite. It requires the suspension of belief in truth if even for a moment in order to look beyond where we are to what we want to become.