plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

Works of art create their own worlds, with their own rules. . . Internal coherence is more important than any resemblance the work might have to something outside of it.

–Arthur Whitman

I think this is one of the most insightful statements about what art is about, or supposed to be about, that we have had on Art & Perception so far. As Arthur points out, it is not so much a definition of art, as a statement of what is most valuable in art.

Arthur’s statement is not so useful for telling us what is art versus what is not (in that respect it is far too broad.) Rather, it is an interesting way to think about what a given artwork is accomplishing. I say “accomplishing” in the present tense, because an artwork, to be perceived, must have a parallel representation in the mind of the viewer (the mind being the greatest world-builder of all). Whatever world the artist has created in their artwork must be rebuilt in the mind of the viewer in order to be seen and felt.

I read something tantalizing in Arthur’s statement about world building, something that suggests to me that art is the externalization of an artist’s inner perceptual world, or a world synthesized through an interaction of the inner world of the mind and the materials and stimuli of the outside world. The problem is that to be more than simply tantalizing, we need to take what Arthur is saying a lot further.

Let me ask then, what are the implications of the statements that I quote at the beginning of this post? How can the concept of art as world-building enhance our appreciation of, and ability to create, art?