Does Meaning Matter?
Art and science have represented the uncomfortable compromise between subjectivity and objectivity in our society since time immemorial, but is this simply a misunderstanding of what art and science are? Surely if we want to practice artistic science we need a firmer grasp on the truth behind these matters, moreover we must know whether there is any truth behind them at all! So we must ask ourselves: “Does meaning matter?”
Science says yes. By definition science is the search for objective truth, so everything scientifically measurable can be assigned objective meaning; from fundamental physical principles to intrinsic properties of particles – objectivity is unavoidable in science. It is of utmost importance that the scientist understands the meaning behind their results and the implications for their research. One cannot afford to say meaning is subjective when trying to assess whether a bridge will stand or in diagnosing a disease and so, clearly, only the most ardent relativist would insist that science is subjective. Yet what about art?
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as the old saying goes, but is it really true? Of course different people see beauty in varying ways – but are all views accurate? Or is there objective beauty beneath it all? I suggest both. Beauty is quantified by the message it conveys. For example, throughout most cultures there have been times where high body-fat is considered attractive due to the relative prosperity it implied. However in current western society, where adequate food supply is generally not a problem, obesity instead implies health issues and lack of fitness. Both views can be understood to be accurate in given situations and furthermore their motivations are objectively good – to prosper and to be healthy are intrinsically positive things. It would appear that the value of the ‘symptom’ is found in what it represents and not in the ‘symptom’ itself. So here we have subjective interpretation of what objective truth is being represented.
It seems that when it comes to assessing meaning for purpose, this meaning does matter and is objective. Nevertheless if we were to stop here we would be doing a major discredit to the subject. The big question is: “What about art for its own sake?” At first it would seem that art would of course be subjective, yet let us consider what art is. According to Aristotle “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” The purpose of art is to express real meaning, albeit inexpressible by other means – so perhaps it is possible to misunderstand art. Is there actually underlying truth which holds regardless of the beholder’s view? Does this mean art could be just as objective as science?
Over the coming weeks we will be investigating this further, through interviews with artists, social experiments and a deeper look at the importance of meaning. Please feel free to comment below and let us know what you think – Does meaning really matter?