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Vassilakis, P.N. (2005b).  Art as a mode of knowing and a model for action.  Proceedings of the 3rd Annual HICAH.  CD-ROM (ISSN #1541-5899), Honolulu, HI.  [http://www.hichumanities.org]


Why do we create and seek art? What is art’s purpose and significance in our life? Such questions have occupied thinkers from the time of the pre-Socratics to the present and will continue to confront and fascinate us due, among other reasons, to a) the observation that art has been and continues to be a defining aspect of every culture, era, and even our individual identity and b) the inability of existing answers to adequately account for our experience of art or place it convincingly within experience in general.

Historically, the significance of art has been understood in terms of entertainment, consumption, abstract beauty, mental exercise, power (whether at a sociological, political, or interpersonal level), or self-understanding. The study addresses some of the important intellectual contributions to the discourse on art’s significance. It argues that art may be our most potent means of re-configuring/enlarging our conception of ‘reality’ and ‘truth,’ opening up possibilities for action, innovation and, ultimately, exploration of our human potential. More specifically, it examines how the dialectic between tradition, culture, and the productive imagination, facilitated in the arts, provides a potent setting for innovation and change. Art is understood as ‘play’ and is approached as our means to create new worlds, in a process of creation analogous to the creation of meaning in the metaphorical use of language. From within such an understanding, the new worlds proposed by art owe their efficacy not simply in being new but, more importantly, in exposing the tension between new and old and mediating it by engaging the free play of imagination. In other words, works of art produce both because and in spite of the fact that they refer to the real world of experience, augmenting reality by expanding our horizon of experience and opening up new possibilities of being-in-the-world.

The study concludes by posing questions specifically related to music’s contribution to knowing. What kind of ‘reality,’ ‘truth,’ or ‘beauty’ does music stake a claim at? How does music help expand our understanding of this ‘reality?’ How does such an understanding of music relate to our strong emotional response to it and to its potential to set, reinforce, or alter our mood? Suggestions for future research will be discussed.