Various theories have been advanced over the years – pleasure, beauty, expression, or the stimulation of emotion – but, as the philosopher Gordon Graham writes, “none of them can on its own explain the special value of great art.” (Philosophy of the Arts, 52.) So what does Graham propose? That art is valuable as a source of knowledge and understanding.
According to Christoph Baumberger:
We praise certain artworks for their profundity and subtlety, for the insights they provide or for how they make us see the world anew and we think these features are artistically relevant. We criticize other works for their shallowness, superficiality or sentimentality and think them thus artistically flawed. These are artistic evaluations that seem also to be, or to depend on, cognitive evaluations. Aesthetic cognitivism takes such features of our evaluations of artworks seriously. It is best thought of as a conjunction of an epistemic and an aesthetic claim: (1) Epistemic claim: Artworks have cognitive functions. (2) Aesthetic claim: Cognitive functions of artworks partly determine their artistic value. (“Art and Understanding: In Defence of Aesthetic Cognitivism,” 1.)
Baumberger goes on to identify the cognitive contributions that artworks might make along two lines: 1) Contributions that Do not Constitute Knowledge, and 2) Contributions that Reach Beyond Knowledge.
But is there an empirically demonstrable connection between art and understanding with reference to what Sir John referred to as spiritual reality? Can art provide new spiritual information?
Launched in 2019, Art Seeking Understanding is a grant making strategy that begins with Aesthetic Cognitivism, a theory about the value of the arts that approaches them not simply (or not even) as sources of delight, amusement, pleasure, or emotional catharsis, but as sources of understanding. As Nelson Goodman put it in Ways of Worldmaking (1978), “the arts must be taken no less seriously than the sciences as modes of discovery, creation, and enlargement of knowledge in the broad sense of advancement of the understanding.”
We’re conceiving, designing, and conducting empirical and statistical studies of the cognitive significance of the arts as it relates to spiritual realities and discoveries of new spiritual information.
We’re building a new community of practice that includes artists and arts researchers, scientists, philosophers, and theologians who share our interest in putting aesthetic cognitivism to the test, and who are making progress through regular interaction and the development of shared resources.
According to Wenger-Trayner, “A Community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.“
We’ve funded a broad range of research projects, including conceptual, empirical, and experimental work, as well as engagement activities related to this research.
Over the course of ten years (from 2020), and in addition to some initial, proactive grant making, we anticipate three rounds of funding, each beginning with a Project Grant (up to $234K) RFP followed by an invite-only Program Grant ($234K to $1M) RFP. The budget for each Project Grant RFP is $3M and the budget for each Program Grant RFP is $6M with a total investment of approximately $30M over ten years.
Closer to Truth is the world’s leading TV series, web archive, and new media resource on big questions of Cosmos, Consciousness, and Meaning. Closer to Truth has been following the Art Seeking Understanding program since 2019, starting with planning meetings (Season 20), through the first round of grants and beyond, establishing a baseline for measuring progress.
Allen, Garrick V. “The Possibilities of a Gospel Codex: GA 2604 (Dublin, CBL W 139), Digital Editing, and Reading in a Manuscript Culture,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 140, No. 2 (2021), 409–34.