Art and the Evolution of Consciousness

Did you know that American Avant-Garde painters, writers and musicians in the 1950’s were inspired by evolutionary philosophy?

I just completed a weekend program with a group that I co-teach called The Evolutionary Collective and the connection between Art and Consciousness was central to our inquiry over the weekend.

In the decades following World War II, an art scene emerged in New York City that included writers like William Carlos Williams, and Jack Kerouac, painters like Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning, as well as be-pop musicians, and theater and dance groups.

It has generally been recognized that these artists were philosophically inspired by the vision of the European Existentialist philosophers. What is less well know is that they were also attempting to manifest a vision of reality that they were learning through the written works of process philosophers, especially John Dewey and Alfred North Whitehead.

What was inspiring these artists was a view of a universe that flowed through a process of evolution that took it from one form to the next as a continuous stream of emergence.

These artists were reading John Dewey’s book “Art as Experience” and Alfred North Whitehead’s “Adventures of Ideas” and were discovering a view of reality that inspired them to explore new ways of creating art.

One of the things that we spoke about over this past weekend is that it has often been the occupation of art through history to attempt to capture new experiences of consciousness and give others access to that consciousness.  The artist feels compelled to infuse her work of art with the new experience of consciousness that they have discovered and feel. When others experience and appreciate their art they are catapulted into the same experience the artist had while creating it.

Art has an aesthetic quality – a particular quality of feeling that it carries. Leo Tolstoy in his book “What is Art?” states that speech – written or spoken – is the vehicle through which human knowledge evolves, while art – in whatever medium – is the vehicle through which human emotion evolves.

These are themes that I find rich and compelling and I will be spending some time over the next few weeks sharing more of what I am learning.

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