Arts, Culture and Meaning

Arts, Culture and Meaning

by Mike Jenkins
December 14, 2010

Creating, discerning and negotiating meaning – both in and out of context – lie at the core of all arts and culture. What is/are the artist(s) attempting to communicate and in what context? Is the meaning of a play, a song, a dance, a symphony, a design, a painting, a poem or passage from a novel, or an example of some other art form discernible or is it open to conjecture? How does a performer or a speaker influence meaning and inform his/her message, and how does the chosen context help determine this meaning? What is a playwright, screenwriter or director trying to say in a piece of theatre or film? What are they trying to communicate (or what do you think they are trying to communicate?), and how does it vary from person to person or when the context changes?

Where Humans Turn

Throughout the ages, arts and culture is where human beings turn when they want to expand their minds and their horizons. Negotiating subject matter and discerning meaning, more often than not, is left to each of us to decide. From early childhood, lying on our backs looking up at the clouds and deciding what shapes we saw; to standing in front of a hieroglyph-covered wall, a Rembrandt, a Picasso, or a Jackson Pollock marveling at their complexity of color, shape and messaging; to experiencing live theatre or music; to lying in bed reflecting back on 70, 80 or 90 years past and the very meaning of life, our journey as life students is driven by the desire to find meaning in and about our lives.

What Sets Us Apart

The same can be said for our life’s work. Who does not strive to find meaning in what they are doing, as well as context among the masses? It is what sets us apart from all other species, even as it brings us together and creates a sense of community. Critical thinking, curiosity, a drive to understand people and things, the intelligence to change our minds and adapt, and the ability to place ourselves within our universe and create meaning regardless of context – these are valuable life skills indeed.

Arts and culture bring meaning to life, in the truest sense of this statement’s dual meanings. They help bring meaning into our lives, even as they infuse and breathe life into meaning.

Questions for YOU!

Given that, what do you believe are the most valuable skills and capacities that we can develop to help us negotiate and discern meaning for ourselves? How do you, personally, go about it? If you are in the creative arts, how do you go about creating meaning? We would love to hear from you!