The power of the arts lies in its coexistence of things that are real and not real. What I mean by this is that, if we look at a photo, it is real because it captures existing things, but unreal because we are unable to experience its components consciously in the way that a photo lets us. In Brechtian theatre (Brecht is a practitioner who created epic theatre) the 4th wall is constantly broken, by the use of techniques like directly addressing the audience, having costume changes on stage etc. making the audience conscious that they are watching something that is not real, it makes them consciously aware that they are watching people putting on a play and acting. And it keeps them disconnected, but at the same time their experience is real, they are physically watching a story unfold in front of them, which in the case of Brecht often advocates real/current social issues. So the audience is aware that there are things that are real and unreal working together to create the piece. When we look at a still life painting, however ‘realistic’ it looks, we know that it is a creation or replication of reality, because the canvas ends, and it flows into a frame and is up on a wall. In all these scenarios there exists, the artists intention as well as the offer for the audience to make a choice about their interpretation. This ‘choice’ that the artist implicitly gives the audience, creates an experience for the audience, it makes them think, consciously or subconsciously, about what they want to believe or take away from that piece of art, this I believe is an important aspect about the knowledge we gain from it. It is also I think, what makes a lot of art timeless because we are able to manipulate it to our own context.
The choice and the knowledge we gain from a piece of art can be influenced by our personal knowledge or experience. Because of how the human mind works, when we see something new or abstract we first try to make sense of it by trying to connect it to things we have experienced, seen, or learned before. This brings up the point, is the knowledge we gain for art different for everyone? and it probably is in the broader sense, but often there are underlying meanings that everyone can agree on, maybe just too different extents or perhaps it is perhaps that they go through a different process of experiencing the meaning which creates unique knowledge for each individual.
for example when I watch the theatre or when I watch a movie, I learn or gain knowledge from it because I appreciate or choose to focus on a lot of the aspects that make the piece what it is. For me, this usually includes, the plot, the acting, the music, the content, the character arc, etc. For me, this usually means that even if I do not like a certain piece of theatre I watch, there is still something I am able to connect and appreciate. For example last year I watch a play called Our Town, and although the plot did not interest me much, nor some of the directorial choices, there was one particular act in which all the actors spoke their own mother tongue, although I did not understand what they were saying, I noticed a profound shift in the quality of acting, and expression. Each actor had elevated their level of emotion and in some ways this made me feel more connected to the actors than I felt when they were speaking English. Maybe this was obvious to everyone before, but when I experienced this is real life, I understood the power of a mother tongue, and the connection people have with a language. I realised that the language you speak it makes a difference to the way you are able to express yourself. And I thought that was so beautiful.
For me when I watch or look at art, usually a load of unrelated fragments of past experiences or ideas flashes into my mind. And somehow seeing an abstract synchronised piece of physical theatre strengthens my understanding of how our minds are becoming slaves of the digital world. So I guess what I am trying to get at is, the arts create a unique experience for each audience/ viewer and this experience that is created is very true and very real, and more impactful than a bunch of facts because like it is said you don’t truly understand something unless you experience it. This experience manifests itself into a connection of an individual’s own ideas as well as a connection between individuals. Together creating things that are agreed on and disagreed on creating both shared and personal knowledge, with both being equally real and valid.
(Also just a side note that I think humans are innately storytellers, its how we have spread knowledge for several years now, and often when we want to make a point we use storytelling techniques such as anecdotes, gestures, vocal expression. We are more prone to understand a situation or an issue better when we are given an example, and this porcess of connection making is what drives the creation of knowledge)