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Abstract: The purpose of this essay is to explore the nature and role of art as a human phenomenon from a broadly cognitive perspective. Like science and religion, art serves to mediate the unknown, at once to embrace and to defend against the fundamental mystery of existence. Thus, it may challenge the status quo while generally serving to maintain it. Art tracks the individuation of subjectivity, serving the pleasure principle, yet is appropriated by the collective’s commitment to the reality principle. While science and religion close in on serious answers to fundamental questions, art opens up possibilities toward playfulness, uselessness, imagination, and arbitrary whim. Though art has no unifying definition, meaning, or intent through time and across cultures, it remains important to people, both to do and to enjoy. It serves to counterbalance the naive realism of science, the “rationality” of modern society, and the literalism of text-based religion. While its allegiance is divided, its most worthy intent is to aid us to confront and negotiate the great mystery revealed to us in consciousness.
Keywords aesthetics  creativity  objectivity  transcendence  representation  patronage  realism  originality  Great Mystery  compromise-formation
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