There is an easy way of thinking about art and its importance on the world. Like the ghosts of Charles Dickens' novel, "A Christmas Carol", they can be bundled up neatly for this article by placing them into three distinct groups. Past, present and future.
Previously art was much more than just a pastime or a way of expressing feelings. Long before there is any proof of a comprehensive verbal language, art was a key form of communication. Stories and information can be told through the rhythms of dance and music. Symbols and drawings would not only represent the life and environment around but would later become the keystone of understanding history. The artwork of previous generations give stunning detail on how the great kings and common workers of past civilizations lived their lives.
While many think of art as a peaceful expression it is often expressed with all the facets of a person's emotions and personality. Art can be violent and war like, as expressed on the stone of monuments built by conquering nations or the dance of ancient warriors. It can also be historical and with religious significance, such as da Vinci's "The Last Supper". It can even be as whimsical as a group of dogs playing poker. Each of these works help tell us the story of our own past.
The purpose of art in the present can easily be overlooked. Most who feel the need to express themselves through art can't explain what gives them the motivation, but just know that there is a part of them that demands it. But just because we don't understand it, doesn't mean it doesn't have relevance in today's society.
As it probably was in the past, art has a monumental impact on society and culture. A simple form of expression has the ability to empower hundreds of thousands of people, topple governments and render armies passive. Even something as trivial as the "Harlem Shake" is now stirring up political drama and emboldening previously voiceless citizens to express their will. Art helps invoke change. Just look at the monuments and sculptures made entirely of waste like used tires or plastic bottles.
What may be the most important aspect of art is its ability to dictate the limits of the future of humanity. Art, like many things in life, is something that can't be defined simply. Its origin is unknown. No one has yet figured out why or how the human brain is able to create or comprehend the impact of art. The goal to understand this is an art itself. Forever understanding and learning but always realizing that the unknown and mystery grows infinitely faster than our comprehension.
A logical mind is a curious mind. It questions and studies the reasons why things exist, happen, live and die. It is fed only by information that is available. When information is not available the logical mind reaches an impass. A mind aided by art and imagination will think beyond what is visible and thus creates the ability for the logical mind to progress. The logical mind understands that gravity causes an object to fall but the artistic mind begins wondering and imagining what causes gravity.
The day we define art with a solid definition is the day we've killed art and stopped progress in many aspects of life. Like the mind of a child, imagination is the pathway to the future. When we become too logical the only things left to achieve are what we believe is possible.
Of course we should know from the past and present that the impossible has always been and will always be possible. The brain that no longer comprehends art can no longer create the next semiconductor, break the speed record on land or air, look into space to discover new solar systems or explore the theory for alternative dimensions. A world without art is a world where progress has stopped.