The Art of Language

October 28, 2010

Post image for The Art of Language

I love it when suddenly things start to make sense, when thoughts come together.

I was again reading the book On Creativity, because I was searching for the definition of some concepts.

Those of creativity, aesthetics and art.

All my previous posts about aesthetics point to the importance of those concepts as an essential step between instinctive and moral human behavior.

But before I could understand it better, I wanted to have some sort of definition. A definition as general as possible. And who would be better to talk about general definitions that take in account the whole, than David Bohm.

In the chapter ‘The art of perceiving movement’ Bohm talks about the split in our language between our emotional and aesthetic perception on the one hand, and our rational and functional perception on the other.

A very good case in point is provided by considering the word art. The original meaning of this word is ‘to fit’. This meaning survives in articulate, article, artisan, artifact and so on. Of course, in modern times the word art has come to mean mainly ‘to fit, in an aesthetic and emotional sense’. However, the other words listed above show that art can also call attention to fitting in a functional sense.

The fact that we are hardly aware of the syllable art in words such as articulate or artifact is an indication of an implicit but very deeply penetrating fragmentation in our thought between the aesthetic, emotional aspects of life and its practical functioning aspects. This fragmentation tends to operate also in the meaning of the word beauty, which is ‘to fit in every sense’. Nevertheless, this word also tends mainly to emphasize aesthetic and emotional fitting.

It can be seen that, in a very profound sense, all these activities are concerned with fitting,  i.e. with art. All that man does is a kind of art, and this implies skill in doing things, as well as perception of how things fit or do not fit. This is indeed self-evident for the visual or musical artist as well as for the artisan. It is true also for the scientist and the mathematician, but less evident.

It is clear, then, that reasoning is to be regarded as an art. And thus, in a deep sense, the artist, the scientist, and the mathematician, are concerned with art in its most general significance, that is, with fitting.

With that in mind I found a post about language with a video of Stephen Fry, about the ‘correct’ use of language. And the following caught my attention:

But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability. It has nothing to do with correctness. There is no right language or wrong language any more than there are wrong clothes. Context, convention and circumstance are all.

The video is mainly about the critical approach to language. How being too critical and too focused on a correct use, can prevent us from being creative with it.

But at the same time it brings to attention the importance of context. How the right use of language depends on the circumstances.

It has to fit, we have to find the right balance. A balancing act that requires skills to recognize the resonance.

The art of language

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Immanuel Ghim

the figure ‘language’ glittering inside the title caught my eyes.
thanks for this nice post, Anne.

Since I’m a Korean, I use Korean language.
But unfortunately, Korean language roots greatly from Chinese letters.
The history is a multi-night talk, but in short, nowadays Koreans use their language mainly based on Chinese thought-concepts, most of them unconciously.

This, is a crucial problem, for people like me (or maybe you, too), who know the importance of language in mind upon the users. Therefore, recent years, I’m discovering original Korean concepts in original Korean thoughts.

In the case of the word ‘art’,
it is striking that there is no daily-expression of it in Korean language.
There may “be” some expression dead in some tomb, but at least, for current daily-use, there isn’t any.

There’s only the Chinese expression 艺术 (I’m not sure if you can see these letters), which means ‘to deal with’ or ‘handling technic’.

Trying to disclose this concept in Korean language, I’ve conferred various languages, and what I found out was that most of them contain the concept of ‘manipulation’.

But the concept of ‘manipulating’ (or ‘fitting’ according to your post), implies the object upon which the manipulator is dealing with.

And this is what I’m not satisfied and almost uncomfortable, since to my view, art is not an object of human, but human is the performer of art. In other words, human beings do not have superiority over art, but on the other hand, they are merely inside it.

This is the same for language. It is true and still manifest that human beings do USE language and deal with them in the right situation and context. But what is more, and crucial, is that human is in the context; that is, they are not the creator or manipulator of the context in which they perform their language, but merely inside the whole language realm.

We swin through the air of language.

This is why I haven’t still come up with a satisfying translation of ‘art’ into my Korean language. Maybe I may appreciate your insight :D



This is so very interesting what you say here, that there is no word for ‘art’ in Korean language.

About the Chinese expression that means ‘to deal with’ or ‘handling technic’, I would say that is indeed part of the definition of art.

The concept of ‘manipulation’ is also very interesting here. Although I am, like you, also not satisfied with the term as a translation of art, I think it does have connections. I think there are artists that certainly use manipulation to ‘affect the senses, emotions and intellect’ of others. And I think it is also used to change contexts and go beyond bounderies of the known.

But personally I don’t think that is what David Bohm means with ‘fitting’. I think what he means is a feeling of ‘getting the right tone’. And once that is done, there is a resonance that is felt by others.

Just my thoughts at this moment.

But I am very glad to hear your view on these subjects, as I think it very interesting to hear that other cultures not necessary have the same concepts.


Immanuel Ghim

Yes, Anne.
Not long after leaving my first comment,
I also thought maybe I have misinterpreted Bohm’s idea.
Maybe I was a little bit in a rush.


Anthony Godsell

Survival of the fittest could also mean survival of the beautiful if beauty is to be absolutely appropriate to the ecology of the environment. Are humans beautiful?


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