Photograph of a fragment of stretched canvas with orange, green and white paint against an easel with blue drips of paint on it.

The paradox of art

Art is artificial, I know, it’s even in the name. But even so, of all human ways of trying to understand, it is the one that best reveals the true nature of things.

Perhaps because it mixes the measurable with the unfathomable, intuition with logical structure, or the scientific method with fantasy. Science describes the world with its particular and mathematical language. The knowledge gained can be used to build bridges, create vaccines, bombs, and pesticides. But the why of things cannot be reached with the scientific method, and perhaps that is the reason so many scientists become mystics.

Religions try to explain the world too, but they can’t get out of the anthropomorphic image of the world. The gods are like parents telling us what to do to get their approval.

Often, when I talk to a scientist or a religious person, or when I hear them talk among themselves about things that escape them, I think that they should pay more attention to art.

If we let it, a poem can help us understand the world more than a theorem. It is easier to understand human passions by delving into a painting than by reading an essay on hormones. Churches have known this for a long time, which is why there is so much religious art. Because art explains everything better.

That is why artists are considered so dangerous in totalitarian regimes, and in any circumstance in which conformism is demanded. It is why they are used as propagandists. Science can develop a drug for depression and engineering can build a rocket, but to depress people or convince them to go to the moon, an artist is required.

Subtle trickery is part of the spell of art. Reverie is an effective form of hypnosis. Art serves power, yes, but the people who are dedicated to it can only do it well if they question everything. Doubt is part of art like the sun of the day. And the artistic torment that doubt produces is real, and quite uncomfortable.

Perhaps that paradox explains it.