The eye of outward sense is as the palm of a hand,
The whole of the object is not grasped in the palm. —Rumi

This image is a variation on the old story of three people describing an elephant that was being oddly exhibited in a darkened room, one observer felt the elephant was snakelike, another thought it to be tree-ish and a third considered it to be more like a rope. Their well-held opinions were, of course, based on which body part they are groping. I’ve adapted this to defining art.

From the left, we first see the investor who “sees” as a snake, a serpent of the Xian mythological sort. This is a tricky beast that promises much, claiming to know which pieces can be bought from starving artist for hundredths and sold to other investors for millions. Used to be that artists and investors were separate species but in these PoMo times, they crossbred and the resulting chimerae ain’t pretty.

In the middle, we see art perceived of as a tree, expressed by a tree hugging, but not of the eco kind, this one is a seeker of the sublime in a platonic, yet orgasmic sense. You’d have thought that this purpose for art went away when Queen Vicky passed, but there are pockets remaining—in the Midwest and South, mostly—where it thrives and not in a good way.

Finally there is art functioning as a rope, a lifeline metaphor for art as therapy, but not for the community as discussed in the de Botton and Armstrong book, but for the individual artists. You could call this sublimation, self-actualization or acting-out depending on which flavor of therapy you like. Sadly, there are overdoses of these self-prescribed palliatives.

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself,
but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” —Werner Heisenberg

Art has never really been “art pour l’art.” 40 millennia back, it began as practical magic, but became work-for-hire soon after. It occasionally takes time out from that, to publically quest for the aesthetic sublime, but privately it has always been seeking—for both creator and consumer—the erotic version since its magical days.

Note: I passed on showing art as propaganda/advertising because to show this, I’d have to show a part being groped that would make the drawing not suitable for general audiences. Feel free to use your imagination to fill in this self-censorship.