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Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature
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A philosopher makes the case for thinking of works of art as tools for investigating ourselves
In Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Alva Noe argues that our obsession with works of art has gotten in the way of understanding how art works on us. For Noe, art isn’t a phenomenon in need of an explanation but a mode of research, a method of investigating what makes us human—a strange tool. Art isn’t just something to look at or listen to—it is a challenge, a dare to try to make sense of what it is all about. Art aims not for satisfaction but for confrontation, intervention, and subversion. Through diverse and provocative examples from the history of art-making, Noe reveals the transformative power of artistic production. By staging a dance, choreographers cast light on the way bodily movement organizes us. Painting goes beyond depiction and representation to call into question the role of pictures in our lives. Accordingly, we cannot reduce art to some natural aesthetic sense or trigger; recent efforts to frame questions of art in terms of neurobiology and evolutionary theory alone are doomed to fail.
By engaging with art, we are able to study ourselves in profoundly novel ways. In fact, art and philosophy have much more in common than we might think. Reframing the conversation around artists and their craft, Strange Tools is a daring and stimulating intervention in contemporary thought.
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