Existentialism focuses on the idea that life has no meaning and is considered absurd. Existential philosophers believe that humans create their own values and determine a meaning for their lives because, from the start, the human being does not possess any inherent value or identity. “Existence precedes essence” is one of the most well-known existential statements and describes how our concrete being is more important than its purpose.
The existentialism movement introduced a new way of perceiving life and was illustrated through poetry, visual art and lecturing. Using these methods poets, artists and philosophers were able to convey the understanding that searching for a meaning to life is futile, and pursuing it can lead to the brink of complete comprehension about one’s purpose for existing, and in turn can cause one to recognize that life is only as meaningful as one makes it out to be. In “Freedom vs.
Determinism” by Tom Greening, the poet rhetorically questions how the universe works in order to show the reader the impossibility of knowing why things happen. Greening uses the line “While we argue, life goes by” to illustrate the point that no matter how much time and effort is put into fighting over why things happen, life will continuously move forward. He is arguing that if we waste time attempting to understand the meaning of life, we will only reach the edge of understanding.
Through the struggle to achieve this “understanding,” our personal lives can begin to elude us. In “Untitled” by Jackson Pollock, the artist uses abstract paint dripping and brush strokes to express the idea that life is not meant to be understood. With the painting, Pollock is showing how life is abstract at times, especially when its meaning is pursued. This is similar to the idea in the unifying thematic statement of the futility of searching for the meaning of life. Life’s conceivable meaning is not meant to be understood, much like the painting.
In “Existentialism is a Humanism” by Jean-Paul Sartre, the lecturer defends existentialism from criticisms of being pessimistic and gloomy. He explains that man materializes at birth, and only after this occurs can he make something of himself, creating his own life without any outside force pushing him. He states that man is what he conceives himself to be, and nothing else. Sartre says “man is nothing other than what he makes of himself,” to convey the idea similar to the one in the unifying thematic statement, that life is only as significant as an individual makes it out to be.
All three existentialists used their mediums to come to the conclusion that there is not one concrete meaning to life. Each individual puts meaning to their own lives. Through understanding this principle meaning of existentialism, Greening, Pollock and Sartre exhibited the fact that one should realize the mere existence of life is the only thing that matters, and should not be wasted on vain attempts to understand its meaning.
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