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Using aesthetics to create well-being
Artworks such as books, music, games, can affect our state of mind, and by doing so, can teach us ways to feel and think differently. Cognitively, knowing more ways to feel and think lets us actively choose how to feel about the world, it gives us control
October 17, 2017
4 Min Read
Art helps us control our emotions.
It gives us memories we can recall, at will, to control how we feel. Want to feel happy? stay angry? stay alert? stay calm? feel less lonely? If you take into account the more intellectual side of art, you can say it helps us control our state of mind, which is more general. Controling our state of mind is fundamental to conscious existence. You don't get more fundamental than that.
Not long ago I mentioned on twitter that artworks were basically .dll files for our brain, well here it is: the dlls contain code for state-of-mind-handling.
"How do I want to feel right now?"
"Ok so I guess I need to play/listen to/watch/read <thing>"
We do this half-consciously all the time.
"State of mind" is a synonym of "aesthetic".
Aesthetics only actually happen inside your head, whatever state of mind it gives you is the aesthetic of the artwork. So when you're creating art, you're creating aesthetics, you're creating states of mind in shareable form.
Now, what does it mean to make art or games relevant to people's state of mind? Making what they want? sure. What they need? maybe. Whatever people are looking for, if you can give that to them, you get 10/10 reviews. Now question: what are people looking for? Less cognitive dissonance! Amongst other things, of course. I mean, lowering dissonance is a huge cognitive need we have, you bet your subconscious will be pushing you in directions that minimize it. Art in general also satisfies our need for play -which is also a huge cognitive need-, both on the creator's and audience's side. The audience plays the artwork as much as the producers/performers, because they're engaging their thoughts and emotions, they semi-consciously opt into the experience. If they're detached, the experience becomes vastly different.
Maybe playing with your state of mind regularly will mean controlling it becomes a skill you get good at?
It gives you more control. People who read a lot of subjective writing tend to have more empathy, I think it's because the stories give them ways of changing their perspective, their state of mind about certain issues. I also remember reading an article citing a study saying that over 90% of best selling novels are all about following the thought processes and states of mind of the characters. I think personnally this is also why youtube stars and twitch streamers are so interesting: you get to follow and share their state of mind in real time.
This is why stories are great: situations create states of mind. Characters are in a situation, and they put you in a state of mind relevant to it. By extension, this "artworks give you DLLs to handle your state of mind" thing expands outside of art too. All aesthetic experiences do that. For example, I think erotica works on that principle. Especially the focus on "situation" where a single sentence can be an entire work.
This "art is about states of mind and thought processes" idea is also crucial to contemporary art. The thought process is the artwork nowadays. If you get a piece in an exhibition with no explanation, you can't judge it. The artwork description panel is mandatory to complete the experience.
Which means the state of mind of the contemporary artist is the aesthetic you're presented with, that's how hard we've streamlined art at this point.
In a way, we've already been through most possible states of mind over the last thousand years in art: thinking about people, nature, god, whatever.
Nowdays if you want to innovate in art you need to address new states of mind that didn't exist previously, or states of mind that we want to get back to, that are relevant today.
This is why we often address digital capitalistic dystopias that destroy the world, because those are what create new states of mind today. Great contemporary artists are journalists, researchers, teachers, engineers, all at once, because they have to.
Creating bridges between states of mind is what people seem to need from creatives: people are feeling X, but would rather feel Y. Usually, "less confused" is one that helps a lot. To enable the audience to change how they feel, you need to change how they see things, or how they think about what's on their mind,
to make new states of mind available to them.
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