Art as Drug

Posted: July 28, 2018 in Sounds, Visions
Tags: , , , , , ,

If one defines the word “drug” as something that changes the way one feels, thinks, sees, in short perceives something, whether that change is positive or negative, is it such a stretch to say that art, no matter the medium, can be called a drug, as well?

Drugs can have many effects on our perceptions. We take them to feel better, as in the case of analgesics or antibiotics to reduce pain or to remedy an illness. Some take them illicitly, thinking they will feel better, and in some cases they will feel better if the non-drugged state is an unpleasant one. Some take them for fun, enjoying the temporary altered state induced. Some become addicted, either to the feeling engendered or on a physical level.

Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern. – Alfred North Whitehead

With the exception of a physical addiction, all of the effects that drugs can have can also be induced by art. Again, whether the medium is painting or sculpture, dance or music, poetry or prose, graffiti or photography, or just the way someone moves in a certain light, the verbal turn-of-phrase that strikes one as being perfect for the moment, or especially descriptive in a way that’s new to one’s ears and mind, the observer/listener/witness is changed. Sometimes the change is temporary, lasting only long enough to note the enjoyment or appreciation of the subject. Often the change is life-long, and the witness’s mindset and worldview are forever altered by the artistic encounter. A new layer, a new filter is added to the perceiver’s ability to process not only future artistic encounters, but all of life’s interactions, from the mundane to the sublime.

Just as a recreational drug user will sometimes receive an effect or effects not anticipated, such as the so-called “bad trip,” or go down instead of up (or up when they wanted to go down,) certain works of art may have an effect not anticipated by the witness, nor, perhaps, by the artist. Certainly, negative emotions and reactions are nearly as prevalent in all works of art as are positive; some artists surely strive for that reaction rather than induce the more positive awareness of beauty. (A tangent to be explored, possibly better, elsewhere: who defines beauty, or whether it must be positive or negative? The artist? The witness? The subject? Surely there are works of dark beauty, of raw truth too cutting, too grim, too stripped-down to be appreciated as art by some witnesses. Mapplethorpe, anyone?) What may be beautiful to me, what may induce a powerfully positive emotional impact, or reduce me to tears of truthful recognition of beauty, or of rightness, may have just the opposite effect (or none at all, the bane of every artist, I should think,) on another. What I find banal, or offensive, or crude, may be another’s epiphany.

Can one become addicted to art, as with drugs? Surely, though perhaps not in a physical sense. Whether one limits themselves to Dali’s surrealism, or listens only to Classical music, decrying the value of rock and roll, or submerges themselves in poetry, in erotica, in science fiction, or in any way overvalues one medium to the exclusion of all possible others, the blinders of addiction are in place.

Some drugs are intrinsically good. Some drugs are not. Some drugs are absolutely required for life to continue. Some drugs have as their only purpose hastening its end. Some drugs allow for mind-expanding connections and conclusions to be made, for the throwing out of old paradigms and the creation of new ones, for the dredging up of genetic memory, of the Collective Unconscious and the archetypes described (not invented) by Jung and his cohorts. Some drugs shut down the cognitive functions, the higher selves, the connectors and archaeologists of the mind, dimming the spark instead of feeding it to flame, or feeding it too quickly and too explosively, so that the flashpoint is reached too soon, or to a negative degree.

Substitute “art” for “drug” in the above paragraph (allowing for changes of tense and syntax,) and it would be no less true.

Even the word art, is, to me, art. How else could such a simple three letter, one syllable word have such enormous potentiality? Art is the fuse to the powder keg of the mind; the catalyst required to make the connections that can have life-changing import; the seed of beauty, of understanding, of appreciation of life and of love; the quickening that hastens perception’s growth; the midwife between artist as sire and witness as progeny.


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