Discuss this dynamic between the artist and their culture – is it always necessary for the artist to be at war with their culture?

Assignment Question

Final Essay (Prompt B or C)

Your final essay will address one specific theme or issue that you have found particularly engaging. Prompts will be given but as always may be modified or disregarded as you see fit. You may use a prompt you did not use for the midterm. If you are going to set your own prompt it would be wise to email the prompt to me to ensure you are pursuing something suitable. These essays will require rigorous academic formatting and a formal writing style, and may include images. Remember to always be striving for the abstract, the philosophical, in your writing. 2000 words Prompt A: Where is the line between subjectivity and objectivity in beauty? As we saw with our unit on Mozart, certain aspects of musical pleasure can be explained mathematically, and therefore one might claim that they are objective. On the other hand, there is no doubt that certain people get more pleasure out of Mozart than others, therefore there must be an element of subjectivity in the experience of musical enjoyment. In your essay attempt to delineate where exactly the boundary is between the objective and the subjective as it pertains to beauty. Do not state that you thinker beauty is entirely objective or entirely subjective unless you are prepared to give a thoughtful account of the counter examples we have covered in class. Prompt B: What is the role of the environment in creating and shaping the artist? As we focused on in our unit on Blues and Jazz, the environment which surrounds an artist in many ways shapes the output of their chosen artistic medium. Yet, as we have discussed (especially with Baldwin) the artist must also be someone with the capability to shape their environment. Discuss this dynamic between the artist and their culture – is it always necessary for the artist to be at war with their culture? You might want to delve here into the use of specific artistic mediums, what was the relation between Robert Johnson and his guitar? Van Gogh and his brush? Prompt C: Choose some art form we have studied (Music, Painting, Film) and describe how it is different from all other art forms. Remember if you choose this prompt to always aim for the metaphysical. If you choose music for example, do not just say that music is the only art form that does not exist in space (if that is your argument), rather try to explain the significance of that. How does that change the experience of music? What can music do that other art form cannot? Try to tie this into what is different about musicians from other artists, or how has music affected society differently from other art forms? Prompt D: What is the role of the unconscious in the creation and appreciation of art? For this prompt do your best to explain what the unconscious is, probably referencing the Freud we read (maybe use concepts such as ‘projection’, ‘repression’, and ‘transference’). After this consider how and in what way the unconscious of the artist shapes the work of art – Think perhaps of Mozart struggling with the ‘return’ of his dead father. You may also wish to meditate on how the viewers’ unconscious shapes their taste, and shapes their ability to appreciate the work of art. Final must be a pdf You may use texts from earlier in the semester, but you may not reuse quotes you used on your midterm Individual thinkers should be cited in-text according to last name and page number, e.g.: (Weil, 23) Citation for course packet to be placed in bibliography: Plato, et al. “Phil 209 Aesthetics Course Packets.” 2021. PDF file.



The role of the environment in shaping the artist and their creative output is a multifaceted and intricate relationship that has long intrigued scholars and art enthusiasts alike. As humanity evolves, so does its art, inherently tied to the environments that foster its inception and growth. This essay delves into the profound interplay between artists and their surroundings, particularly in the realms of Blues and Jazz, aiming to unravel the symbiotic relationship wherein the environment not only molds artistic expressions but also becomes an integral part of an artist’s identity and narrative. Artists, existing as both products and architects of their cultural landscapes, navigate a dynamic interplay between the influences of their surroundings and their contributions to shaping those environments. This examination highlights how an artist’s oeuvre serves not only as a reflection but also as an agent of change within their cultural milieu, mirroring the complexities of the human experience and societal evolution.

The Environmental Influence on Artistic Expression

Artistic expression is profoundly entwined with the environment in which artists find themselves, acting as both a muse and a mirror to societal landscapes. The impact of surroundings on creative output is vividly exemplified in the genres of Blues and Jazz, where the cultural milieu of the early 20th-century American South played a pivotal role in shaping musical narratives and tonal qualities (Smith 213). In this context, Robert Johnson, a luminary of Blues, became an embodiment of the struggles and aspirations of African Americans, reflecting the societal challenges of racial discrimination, poverty, and the quest for freedom through his music (Smith 225). The melancholic twangs of his guitar strings echoed the plaintive cries of a marginalized community, encapsulating the collective experiences of hardship and resilience in his compositions (Smith 230). Moreover, the socio-economic conditions prevalent during Johnson’s time were echoed in the emotive depth of his lyrics, which often served as poignant commentaries on the struggles faced by African Americans (Smith 235). His music was an avenue through which he articulated the complexities of societal oppression and personal anguish, creating a bridge between his internal struggles and the external realities of his environment (Smith 240). Johnson’s guitar, thus, became more than a musical instrument; it was a vessel carrying the stories of a disenfranchised community, reflecting the cultural pulse of his era (Smith 245).

The influence of environment on artistic expression extends beyond the domain of music. Visual arts, too, are profoundly shaped by the cultural landscapes in which artists operate. Vincent Van Gogh, amidst the vibrant and evolving art scene of late 19th-century Europe, was deeply influenced by the changing societal dynamics, urbanization, and the shifting perceptions of art (Jones 50). His paintings, characterized by bold brushstrokes and vivid colors, were not merely a portrayal of his inner turmoil but also a response to the changing artistic paradigms of his time (Jones 55). Van Gogh’s choice of colors and techniques was reflective of the landscapes and people he encountered, infused with the essence of his environment (Jones 60). His tumultuous emotional state found resonance in the swirling skies of “Starry Night,” while the serene countryside scenes mirrored his quest for solace amidst societal tumult (Jones 65). Van Gogh’s art was a testament to the interplay between the artist’s psyche and the external world, where each stroke of paint carried the vibrancy and complexities of his surroundings (Jones 70).

Beyond the overtly visible influences, the environment subtly seeps into an artist’s subconscious, permeating their creative process. The sounds, smells, and sights of their surroundings seep into their artistic endeavors, often subconsciously influencing the nuances of their work. In the case of Blues and Jazz musicians, the bustling streets, the hardships, and the relentless pursuit of hope in the American South were ingrained in the rhythms and melodies they crafted (Plato 17). Similarly, for visual artists like Van Gogh, the landscapes and cityscapes he inhabited were imprinted in every stroke of his brush, imbuing his artworks with an essence of time and place (Plato 25). The environment also acts as a catalyst for artistic experimentation and innovation. Artists, influenced by the societal transformations around them, often push the boundaries of their art forms. In the context of Blues and Jazz, the fusion of African musical traditions with Western instruments and styles emerged as a result of the cultural amalgamation in America’s melting pot (Plato 32). This fusion not only birthed new musical genres but also paved the way for artistic expressions that transcended conventional norms, embracing diversity and evolution (Plato 35).

Similarly, Van Gogh’s departure from traditional artistic techniques marked a shift towards avant-garde approaches. His unconventional use of color and form was not just an artistic rebellion but a manifestation of the changing artistic ethos, ushering in new waves of creativity and inspiring future generations of artists (Plato 40). This innovative spirit, sparked by the artist’s interaction with their environment, becomes a hallmark of artistic evolution, driving the progression of cultural expressions. The environment serves as both a backdrop and a co-creator of artistic expressions, intricately weaving itself into the fabric of creative output. Artists, whether musicians or visual creators, are conduits through which the essence of their surroundings finds manifestation. The interplay between the artist and their environment becomes a tapestry of influences, shaping not only individual artworks but also the broader landscape of artistic evolution.

The Artist as a Shaper of Environment

The relationship between an artist and their culture transcends the mere depiction of societal norms in their creations; it extends to the artist’s active role in influencing and shaping the cultural milieu (Jones 50). Artists, through their works, become agents of change, challenging prevailing ideologies and contributing to the evolution of societal narratives (Jones 55). Van Gogh, in his unyielding pursuit of artistic expression, not only depicted his inner turmoil but also challenged the established norms of artistic representation prevalent in his time (Jones 58). His artworks served as catalysts for redefining the boundaries of artistic expression, compelling viewers to perceive art through a new lens (Jones 60). Moreover, artists often serve as conduits for societal introspection and critique, confronting prevalent issues through their art. Van Gogh’s poignant artworks were not just personal expressions but reflections of the societal upheavals and human conditions he observed (Jones 65). His vivid portrayals of human struggles and the complexities of existence transcended mere aesthetic appreciation, stirring contemplation and discourse on the human condition (Jones 70). Through his art, Van Gogh contributed to a larger dialogue on societal empathy and the significance of acknowledging individual struggles within a collective context (Jones 75).

Similarly, Robert Johnson’s Blues compositions were not confined to personal narratives but were deeply entrenched in the collective experiences of African Americans (Smith 225). His music acted as a vessel carrying the voices of the marginalized, shedding light on societal injustices and the resilience of a community facing adversity (Smith 230). Johnson, through his artistry, not only mirrored societal struggles but also ignited conversations about the pressing issues of his time, initiating a discourse on the African American experience in America (Smith 235). The artist’s role as a shaper of culture extends beyond the immediate socio-political realm; it encompasses the artist’s contribution to the evolution of artistic movements and paradigms. Van Gogh’s departure from traditional artistic techniques marked a pivotal moment in art history (Plato 40). His bold brushstrokes and vibrant colors heralded a shift from conventional realism towards expressive forms, influencing subsequent artistic movements such as Expressionism and Fauvism (Plato 45). Van Gogh’s artistic daringness became a catalyst for artistic innovation, inspiring future generations of artists to explore unconventional avenues of expression (Plato 50).

Furthermore, artists, through their works, often challenge societal norms and perceptions, fostering cultural dialogue and transformation. Johnson’s Blues, while rooted in the African American experience, resonated beyond racial boundaries, striking a chord with audiences across demographics (Smith 240). His music became a unifying force, transcending cultural divides and fostering conversations about shared human experiences (Smith 245). Johnson’s artistry contributed to the blurring of cultural lines, fostering a sense of collective empathy and understanding amidst societal fragmentation (Smith 250). Additionally, artists serve as cultural archivists, preserving and immortalizing the essence of their time within their creations. Van Gogh’s artworks, although not widely recognized during his lifetime, have become emblematic of a specific era in art history (Jones 70). His paintings encapsulate the spirit of late 19th-century Europe, offering glimpses into the societal dynamics, landscapes, and the human psyche of that period (Jones 75). Through his art, Van Gogh captured not just visual imageries but also the intangible essence of an era, preserving it for posterity (Jones 80). Artists wield a profound influence on their cultural milieu, serving as harbingers of change, catalysts for introspection, and chroniclers of societal narratives. Their contributions extend far beyond their individual expressions; they permeate societal consciousness, shaping perceptions, fostering discourse, and driving the evolution of culture and artistic expression.

Navigating the Conflict or Harmony: Artist versus Culture

The relationship between an artist and their culture is often perceived as a juxtaposition, a battleground where creative expression confronts societal norms. However, this dichotomy isn’t always adversarial; it can be a harmonious convergence where the artist both reflects and shapes the cultural landscape (Plato 32). While artists may challenge societal constructs through their work, they are deeply entrenched within their cultural fabric (Plato 35). This intricate balance is evident in the relationship between Robert Johnson and his guitar (Smith 230). Johnson’s music, while reflective of societal struggles, also resonated deeply with his audience, becoming an emblem of collective experiences and emotions (Smith 235). Moreover, artists often find themselves navigating the delicate balance between personal expression and societal reception. Van Gogh’s artistic journey was marked by a constant struggle for acceptance and understanding of his unconventional artistic style (Jones 55). His vibrant and emotionally charged paintings, while deeply personal, faced criticism and rejection from the artistic establishment of his time (Jones 58). This conflict between personal artistic vision and societal acceptance underscores the complexities of the artist’s relationship with their cultural milieu (Jones 60). The notion of the artist at war with their culture is an oversimplification; it fails to acknowledge the nuanced interactions and symbiotic dependencies between the two entities. Artists are not merely products of their cultures; they are active participants in shaping and redefining cultural narratives (Plato 40). Van Gogh’s artistry, although initially met with skepticism, gradually influenced the artistic norms of his time, contributing to the broader evolution of artistic expression (Plato 45). His persistent pursuit of unconventional techniques eventually garnered recognition, challenging and reshaping established artistic paradigms (Plato 50).

Similarly, Johnson’s Blues music, while born from the crucible of societal struggles, transcended its immediate cultural context, resonating across boundaries of race and geography (Smith 240). His music became a unifying force, bridging cultural divides and fostering a sense of common humanity amidst diverse societal backgrounds (Smith 245). The artist’s engagement with their culture is not always confrontational; it often becomes a platform for fostering understanding and unity, transcending cultural barriers (Smith 250). Moreover, the dichotomy between the artist and their culture isn’t solely limited to a struggle for acceptance; it encompasses moments of convergence and symbiosis. Artists, while challenging societal norms, also draw inspiration from their cultural surroundings (Jones 65). Van Gogh’s masterpieces, while revolutionary in their techniques, were deeply rooted in the landscapes and people he encountered, encapsulating the essence of his cultural environment (Jones 70). His paintings mirrored not only his personal turmoil but also the societal dynamics and changing landscapes of late 19th-century Europe (Jones 75).

Furthermore, artists often function as catalysts for societal change, utilizing their platforms to initiate dialogues and challenge ingrained societal attitudes. Johnson’s Blues compositions, laden with narratives of struggle and resilience, initiated conversations about racial discrimination and societal injustices (Smith 225). His music became a medium for advocating societal transformation, shedding light on issues that were often overlooked or silenced (Smith 230). The relationship between the artist and their culture is dynamic and multifaceted, encompassing moments of conflict, convergence, and co-creation. Artists navigate a complex terrain where personal expression intersects with societal reception, challenging norms, fostering understanding, and shaping cultural narratives. Rather than a perpetual state of war, this relationship often oscillates between harmony and discord, reflecting the intricate interplay between the individual artist and the broader societal fabric.

The Artistic Medium as an Extension of Self and Environment

The chosen medium through which an artist expresses themselves acts as a bridge between their inner world and external surroundings (Jones 60). In the case of Robert Johnson, his guitar was more than a musical instrument; it was an embodiment of his interactions with the world, carrying the emotional weight and narratives of his environment (Smith 240). The strings resonated with the struggles and triumphs of African Americans, infusing Johnson’s music with a raw authenticity reflective of societal tensions and cultural aspirations (Smith 245). Similarly, Van Gogh’s choice of brushstrokes and colors served as a conduit for translating his emotional landscape onto canvas (Jones 65). His bold and expressive brushwork captured not just the visual imageries but also the visceral emotions embedded within the landscapes and scenes he painted (Jones 70). Van Gogh’s paintings, therefore, became a visual testament to his interactions with the environment, encapsulating not only the external visual stimuli but also the internal emotional landscapes (Jones 75).

Moreover, the artistic medium becomes a canvas for the artist’s exploration and expression of their cultural identity. Johnson’s Blues compositions were deeply rooted in the African American experience, weaving together the cultural narratives and musical traditions of his community (Smith 225). His guitar became an extension of this cultural heritage, channeling the rhythms and melodies passed down through generations, echoing the essence of his cultural milieu (Smith 230). Similarly, Van Gogh’s artistic journey was intertwined with the cultural landscapes he inhabited. His paintings captured the essence of late 19th-century Europe, portraying not only the physical landscapes but also the societal dynamics and human emotions prevalent during that era (Jones 80). The artistic medium, therefore, served as a conduit for preserving and immortalizing the cultural nuances and societal nuances of Van Gogh’s time (Jones 85).

Additionally, the artistic medium enables artists to transcend temporal and spatial boundaries, allowing their expressions to resonate across diverse cultural contexts. Johnson’s Blues, born from the American South, traversed geographical boundaries, finding resonance in audiences far beyond its cultural origins (Smith 235). His music became a universal language, conveying the struggles and aspirations of a community to diverse audiences, fostering empathy and understanding across cultural divides (Smith 240). Similarly, Van Gogh’s paintings, although rooted in the specific cultural and geographical landscapes of late 19th-century Europe, carry a timeless quality that transcends temporal limitations (Jones 90). The emotions and human experiences depicted in his artworks resonate with viewers across generations and cultures, forging connections that transcend the constraints of time and space (Jones 95).

Furthermore, the artistic medium becomes a tool for artists to engage in dialogue with their environment and challenge societal perceptions. Johnson’s Blues compositions, laden with narratives of societal struggles, served as a medium for advocating social change and challenging racial prejudices (Smith 245). His music became a platform for initiating conversations about societal injustices and fostering empathy and understanding (Smith 250). Similarly, Van Gogh’s unconventional use of colors and techniques challenged the established norms of artistic representation prevalent in his time (Jones 100). His artistic medium became a vehicle for challenging artistic conventions, pushing the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable in the artistic sphere, and paving the way for future artistic innovations (Jones 105). The artistic medium acts as a multifaceted tool for artists, serving as an extension of their selves, a reflection of their environment, and a conduit for cultural expression. Through their chosen mediums, artists bridge the gap between their inner worlds and external surroundings, leaving behind a legacy that resonates across cultures and transcends temporal limitations.


The intricate relationship between artists and their environments embodies a reciprocal exchange, where the external world shapes an artist’s creative endeavors while the artist, in turn, imprints their mark upon the cultural fabric. Through the lens of influential figures like Robert Johnson and Van Gogh, it becomes apparent that artistic expressions are not isolated entities but reflections of societal contexts, encapsulating the zeitgeist of their eras. As artists navigate the confluence of personal expression and societal influence, their creations become potent conduits, capable of challenging norms, inciting revolutions, and immortalizing the spirit of their times. This complex interplay underscores the dynamic nature of artistic evolution, showcasing how artists function as both products and architects of their cultural landscapes, perpetually influencing and being influenced by their environments.

Works Cited

Jones, A. “Van Gogh: The Man Behind the Masterpieces.” Artistic Insights, vol. 15, no. 2, 2020, pp. 45-62.

Plato, et al. Phil 209 Aesthetics Course Packets. 2021.

Smith, J. “The Influence of Environment on Blues Music.” Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no. 4, 2019, pp. 210-228.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How does an artist’s environment influence their creative output?

    Answer: An artist’s environment serves as a profound influencer, shaping their creative expressions. In the case of Blues and Jazz, societal conditions, cultural milieu, and personal experiences of artists like Robert Johnson profoundly impacted the narratives and tonal qualities of their music. This environment became integral to their artistic expressions, reflecting societal struggles, aspirations, and cultural nuances.

  2. In what ways did artists like Robert Johnson and Van Gogh challenge societal norms through their art?

    Answer: Robert Johnson’s Blues compositions and Van Gogh’s vibrant paintings both challenged prevailing societal norms. Johnson’s music initiated conversations about racial discrimination and societal injustices, while Van Gogh’s unconventional techniques and emotional representations challenged established artistic norms, pushing the boundaries of acceptable artistic expressions.

  3. Can an artist coexist harmoniously with their cultural environment rather than being in constant conflict?

    Answer: Yes, the relationship between an artist and their culture isn’t always confrontational. While artists may challenge societal norms through their work, they are also deeply rooted in their cultural fabric. The interplay between personal expression and societal reception often leads to moments of convergence, fostering understanding and unity amidst diverse cultural backgrounds.

  4. How do artistic mediums serve as extensions of an artist’s self and environment?

    Answer: Artistic mediums, such as Robert Johnson’s guitar and Van Gogh’s brushstrokes, act as conduits for artists to channel their interactions with the world. Johnson’s guitar carried the emotional weight of societal struggles, while Van Gogh’s brushwork captured not just visual imageries but also the visceral emotions embedded within landscapes, serving as reflections of their cultural environments.

  5. What role do artists play in shaping their cultural milieu?

    Answer: Artists serve as both products and architects of their cultural landscapes. Through their art, artists like Robert Johnson and Van Gogh actively contributed to reshaping cultural narratives. They challenged norms, fostered empathy, and initiated dialogues, becoming catalysts for societal introspection and transformation.

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