Art and Existentialism

When reading into existentialism, I found an article titled, “Why Creativity is the Cure for Nihilistic Despair,” though the title is somewhat misleading. The article delved into how and why many existentialist turn to art. The general argument made by the author is that, for existentialist, we are not born with any inherent meaning nor is there a overarching meaning in life. In order to exist alongside a lack of meaning (absurdity), we must develop our own sense of meaning. This is where the author argues that for many art creates this personal meaning.

In the modern world, there is a sense of heroism that is synonymous with having an eternal spirit. We all fear death and in order to maintain sanity we concoct narratives that help deconstruct the terror of death. For some, this manifests as religion or spirituality. The idea of heroism is that we go out of our way to take on an active role in society, through carriers, relationships, etc., because we feel that these roles will prevent us from being forgotten after death; they are your mark on the world that makes you somewhat eternal despite inevitable death.

The existentialist thought suggests that heroism is not genuine and by participating in it you are feeding into the “myth of significance of human life” (Ernest Becker). Instead, the way to live is by first accepting absurdity, meaning you accept that there is no ultimate purpose. Once you acknowledge absurdity, it is up to you to live your most genuine truth which does not originate from the social construction around you, rather it is a product of you mind alone. This is the concept of rebellion.

The author of the article I read argues that the artist is the ultimate rebel. The artist remains conscious about the absurdity of life and uses that lucidity to formulate art. That art is there genuine truth and meaning and prevents them from sliding off the edge of existentialism into nihilism. Ernest Becker articulates tis concept well, “the most anyone of us can seem to do is to fashion something — an object or ourselves — and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force.”

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