ART via MUSIC

Four Tet | Maxfield Parrish

Song: 'Daughter' - Four Tet (2017)

Art: 'Arizona' - Maxfield Parrish (1950)



What is the right way to live? What is the point of life? What are humans really after? Although these questions are simple and exceedingly important, there is no consensus as to their answers. By virtue of the fact that we are conscious, we have a vested interest in their primordial mystery. Ultimately, what more can anyone ask for than some assurance that their life that has been worth something? The psychologist Victor Frankl wrote the most famous of his many books, Man’s Search for Meaning, in a span of just nine days following his liberation from a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. He had been developing his theory of logotherapy for years prior to the Holocaust, but his views were dramatically reframed by his extraordinary experience. Frankl’s logotherapy, Adler’s psychology, and Freud's psychoanalysis differ from each other most fundamentally in their view of the goal of human existence. Freudians consider pleasure to be man’s universal aim, Adler speaks of a “will to power”, and according to Frankl, the true desire of each of our lives is to find meaning. Of these three well known conceptions of the goal of life, Frankl’s is the only one achievable by those in a unavoidable situation in which they are chronically deprived of power and pleasure - such as imprisonment in a concentration camp. He outlines three major modes of being in which one can glean meaning from their life. The first is an active state of creation, where someone is engaged in fulfilling work. The second is a passive state of enjoyment, where meaning is gotten from the loving and joyful experiencing of art, nature, and other people. The third is a state of dignified suffering, which he sees as an inevitable feature of life and an opportunity to be “brave, dignified, and unselfish.” Frankl’s view differs sharply from Freud’s and Adler’s in that it doesn’t require you to have any special circumstances or abilities to have a life that is worthwhile. The beauty of Man’s Search for Meaning is in its ability to paint moments that may be seen as sad or mundane as glorious and full of meaning. Movies and music attest to the collective consensus that the creation of great works, romantic love, and epic courage in the face of suffering are meaningful things that bestow a life with value. But Frankl expands the purview of meaningful moments beyond these dramatic actions to include moments of honest “enjoyment” of art, nature, and other people. You aren’t required to be atop a dominance hierarchy, to be an “alpha,” to win the evolutionary game, or make others afraid of you to be validated. You don’t need to be in a state of pleasure either, to be constantly aboard the hedonistic treadmill chasing a mirage of sex, food, wealth, and status. You don’t even need to have the energy and talent to create great works and actively make a difference in the lives of others. No -- you can have meaningful moments, you can make your life valuable and worthwhile just by genuinely enjoying the world. Why would doing great things be meaningful if no one was ever there to appreciate them? Logotherapy is so elegant and optimistic because it presents such a balanced and realistic view of the world where everyone, no matter the unique role they play has the opportunity to find meaning. There must always be people actively creating, people passively consuming and appreciating, and yet others suffering. It is undoubtedly great and meaningful to write a beautiful song, to be moved to tears by that beautiful song, and to harness the power of that beautiful song to heroically endure a horrific tragedy. In addition to these great cinematic feats though, it is also meaningful to simply enjoy the world in a moment of seemingly innocuous recreation. Man’s search for meaning is satisfied by half listening to that song on a secluded peak in a mountain preserve as you toss rocks at soda can for hours with your best friends. Although many may see it as a wasted day of leisure, according to Frankl, it is as life affirming as any act of dramatic heroism, fairytale moment of romance, or awesome display of power.

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