The Artwork of Michael Divine

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Purpose and Beauty

February 13th, 2016

The Challenge

Perhaps there are cultures that value ‘art’ more highly and not just art but the actual craft of it. In many of the more ‘tribally’ oriented cultures outside the Western World we find fewer ‘painters’ and more ‘craftspeople’. We could go through Asia, Africa, Oceania and point out countless traditions where ‘craft’ and ‘art’ and ‘function’ are all one in the same. That craft – and the decoration thereof – is evident in the furnishings and, more importantly, in the self-reported happiness of the individuals because they have surrounded themselves with beauty and lives of beauty. In some of these cultures, the self-reporting of ‘happiness’ is much higher than in more economically successful countries where the levels of alcohol and tobacco addiction are quite high amongst middle and upper class individuals and where one also finds higher levels of dissatisfaction and a general ennui.

Photo of the Moment

“All For Just a Glimpse of Those Heavenly Chimes”

Is there a lower propensity for addiction in cultures that combine beauty with one’s life purpose? Do such cultures not gravitate towards the addictions of modern life as easily because their sense of beauty is wrapped up with their sense of purpose? Addictions cost money, require time to engage in them, and are supported by a lack of communal connection. We could say that it is likely that many of our modern addictions are results of our modern life. However, given the chance, it seems that most cultures readily jump on board that modern lifestyle and dive into the addictive tendencies. We can digress into ideas of colonial nostalgia and whether electricity and cell phones change the lives of people for better or for worse but the more salient question to this discussion is: do people in pre-First World cultures have a better sense of who they are, what they are doing, and where they are going – in essence: do they self-report having more meaningful lives?

This question cannot be answered in a blanket statement. As I said above, ‘modern life’ is requires a certain level of economic solvency. We can compare economically successful countries to impoverished cultures in developing countries for only so long until we find glaring differences in the culture’s needs and its responses to its environments.

Perhaps we can look to the Native American cultures and the shift that happened to their lives and lifestyles with the decimation of their culture. Here we see a people that gravitated to alcohol and gambling rather quickly upon its introduction but maybe it happened so easily because their sense of purpose was tied closely to their sense of place and ideas of beauty and natural harmony that when they were removed from their place, the deeper sense of purpose and beauty diminished. Their arts suffered – their art of living most of all. With communities crushed, land stolen, and so on, their sense of purpose diminished. With a lack of more meaningful stimuli, perhaps the quick rewards of gambling and alcohol seemed, in the moment, sufficient to propel them forwards.

It almost begins to seem like this ‘modern capitalist world’ has been refined – whether consciously or not – into a state of keeping people tethered to their low level addictions in order to create a substantially restrained and ever-consuming working class. An addicted populace is a controlled populace because the citizens no longer have a clear sense of their purpose in the world other than working in order to consume. If they looked up – if they weren’t caught in their own cycles and struggles – they might not like where they are going, what they are doing, and who they are working for. Self-loathing drives many back to their addictions.

A friend told me of visiting her father. He works at a job he doesn’t like. He goes home and watches TV – all the terrible reality shows – “Let’s Buy a Houseboat!” and “Ow, My Balls!” and so on – and falls asleep, his brain waiting for some dopamine trigger… some little reward that says “YES! Ha ha. That was funny…” And then does it the same the next day. And then again the next day. And again and again.

In this cycle, the nucleus accumbens grows larger while trapped in a reward/response loop and the caudate nucleus suffers. The sense of purpose, the desire for (and to create) beauty withers. Instead people stay within a low volume wave form of ups and downs of addiction but never enough to snap out of it. Few people are given or find the tools to break out of this cycle. This cycle perpetuated by parents who also lost their sense of purpose, who wallowed in their own low- volume addictions and diversions, who found some purpose in raising a child, and the child is plopped in front of the TV which sells them shames and fears and triggers and desires to belong to something. It’s a cycle furthered by teachers, governments, media, capitalism, and so on. In short: by most everyone.

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