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Daniel McInerny, Catherine Hadro and Dan Kuebler chatting on Purposeful Lab Podcast.
Purposeful UniverseApril 29, 20242 min read

Purposeful Lab: Can Art Help Us Answer Life's Big Questions?

On this episode of Purposeful Lab, renowned author and philosophy professor Dr. Daniel McInerny joins Dan and Catherine to delve into the profound question: Can art help us find meaning in life? Together, they explore the philosophy of art, looking into the unique ways in which art illuminates the human experience. Drawing from his acclaimed book The Good Death of Kate Montclair, Dr. McInerny offers profound insights into how literature can guide us through life's existential questions.


Art, Culture, and Death

According to Dr. McInerny, one of the chief purposes of culture is to help us make sense out of death. In order to highlight this principle, Dr. McInerny wrote a book titled The Good Death of Kate Montclair. The book centers around an agnostic woman who receives a grave diagnosis and how she confronts the inevitability of death. While many people in modern culture attempt to ignore death and keep themselves busy to forget about it, Dr. McInerny decided to explore how a person deals with the prospect of death. Throughout the book, Dr. McInerny describes how someone without a religious or philosophical framework contends with the end of her own life and the purpose she finds through answering some of life’s big questions.

Art and Meaning

Every work of art has to do with humans pursuing happiness and meaning in some way. According to Dr. McInerny, that is the ethical life. The moral life is the search for happiness. Any work of art, story, sculpture, or song in some way represents that existential quest for happiness.

However, things can get complicated. Different cultures, literary traditions, and paintings have different understandings of what happiness means and how art answers life’s big questions. Modern Western culture, in particular, has been challenging the notion that happiness even exists.

Nonetheless, there can be good art and bad art. Dr. McInerny explains that there should be two levels when looking at art: the meaning level and the craft level. In order for art to be truly good, the level of meaning within a work should be on par with the technical proficiency of the work. Just because a piece of art has a substantial amount of meaning but fails in technical proficiency does not mean that it is a good work.

Art and Transcendence

What is it that we are going beyond in a work of art? Dr. McInerny would say that we are going over our own ego, our self-concern, and our own emotional life. By creating art, we transcend our own subjective desires. We want art to maintain the particularities of human experience but go beyond simply our individual experience. Good art is going to take us into the realm of what is really fulfilling for human beings. True art will give us a picture of the perfection we all desire. Additionally, a good work of art walks the line between success and failure, particularly how failure can bring about profound lessons for the protagonist.

Take a Listen

This episode demonstrates how art is a practice that should inspire us to pursue perfection. Art is not simply about individual artistic expression or just the mind of the artist. True art ought to display technical proficiency in addition to drawing our minds to contemplate the things in life that bring about our human flourishing. Art can help us answer life’s big questions by acting as a picture of the happiness we are all innately capable of.  




Purposeful Universe

The Purposeful Universe seeks to explore and present, through award winning videos, the abundant order in nature that funnels biological systems toward increasing levels of complexity and sophistication—suggesting that human life is the purposeful outcome of a complex, ordered system.