5. Art marks
What is art?
Our senses are so open to all kinds of impressions and so interwoven one with another, that there is no simple answer to the question: What is art?   All that can be said is that common to all works of art is something we call form. The form of a work of art is the shape it has taken. It does not matter whether it is a building, or a statue, or a picture, a poem or a sonata–all these things have taken on a particular or 'specialized' shape, and that shape is the form of the work of art.  Artists are all people who give shape to something.  The best works of art are the works with the best form, and one form is better than another because it satisfies certain conditions.  Generally, of course, they are the conditions which give our senses the most pleasure, and by that we mean the conditions which give pleasure, not only to one sense at a time, but also to two or more senses working together, and finally to that reservoir of all our senses which is our mind.
However,  what pleases one person does not necessarily please another.  What we have to find, therefore, is some touchstone outside the individual peculiarities of human beings, and the only touchstone which exists is nature. By nature is meant the whole organic process of life and movement which goes on in the universe, a process which includes human beings, but which is indifferent to our generic idiosyncrasies, subjective reactions, and temperamental variations.
Art in nature
But nature is so immense and multiform that at first sight it would seem to be quite impossible to select any general or universal features which we could then take as the touchstone for the form of things we are to make. And actually, of course, artists have not usually sought for such a touchstone. They have sensed it: they have found it instinctively in the elementary forms in nature which artists have given to their works of art.  They are present in the vast interstellar spaces of the universe as well as in the most microscopic cells and molecules of matter. A scientist will make an image to show, for example, the orderly arrangement of atoms inside a crystal of diamond. We then see that the atoms form a regular pattern, a pattern which the scientist himself will describe as 'beautiful'. The image is a is a man-made structure derived from a formal arrangement of light and shade which he recorded on a photographic plate.  An astrologer will make an image in which the movements of the planets are gauged against the fixed background of the zodiac.
If we are to compare art and nature, we can simply begin with what the human eye sees in its daily activity, but ignoring, of course, all that has been formed by human hands. Our eyes then feast upon the accidental forms of nature. Rocks thrown up in volcanic eruptions, trees blasted by lightning, valleys carved out by ice.  Although these are not universal or absolute forms, particularly pleasing arrangements of mass are easily perceived and remembered, photographed or drawn.
The other category of natural forms are the universal shapes all unimpeded growth assumes: the growth of crystals, the growth of vegetation, of shells and bones and flesh. All these processes of growth take on definite shapes and proportions, and if we can find general laws which govern these shapes and proportions, then we shall have found in nature a touchstone of form which we can apply to works of art.
Plato and Pythagoras found in number the clue to the nature of the universe and to the mystery of beauty. Science and philosophy have undergone many transformations since that time, but the final result is the same, and goes to show that number, in the sense of mathematical law, is the basis of all the forms which matter assumes, whether organic or inorganic in kind. Moreover, we do not find a mathematical chaos, as might be the case if every form had its own mathematical equation: the truth is rather that the innumerable forms, of lifeless substance no less than of living things, obey a definite number of comparatively simple laws. That is to say, the growth of particular things into particular shapes is determined by forces acting in accordance with certain inevitable mathematical or mechanical laws.
Expression of individuality
We are essentially human when we use graphic ways of portraying other realities, and the Paleolithic artist deep in a cave, or balancing on a rocky mountain-side, was expressing a mind identical to our own in order to serve his community.
An equally powerful biological imperative is to promote 'self'. In the sense of the 'selfish gene' scenario, any behavioural characteristic that gives one's own genetic endowment an advantage in passing to the next generation is subject to natural selection. From this aspect, art is also one of many behavioural expressions that allows an individual to be distinguished from the crowd. Piet Mondrian put it this way:
"Although art is fundamentally everywhere and always the same, nevertheless two main human inclinations, diametrically opposed to each other, appear in its many and varied expressions. One aims at the direct creation of universal beauty, the other at the aesthetic expression of oneself, in other words, of that which one thinks and experiences. The first aims at representing reality objectively, the second subjectively".
The advantages of contributing to group identity by reinforcing the contemporary norms of representation (subscribing to locally agreed icons of beauty and meaning), and the cultivation of an individual output are not opposing principles of artistic creativity. They represent primeval skills of being able to help highlight group identity through mapping one's social unit, and having the ability to produce new ideas about the environment which improve one's own survival.