A few points: you might like Collingwood's book Principles of Art. I think he might actually agree that life itself is art, in some senses. Life is art in the sense that it is the expression of something else. It expresses values, emotions, ideals aimed at, ideals achieved, ideals defaced. But I think he'd disagree that art is just there to help 'enjoy' the ride. If that's what a piece of 'art' does, it's bad art, or 'craft' (or magic, if it serves a practical role in daily life). The place for good art is in probing the unknown, understanding and expressing novel emotions and connections relevant to the time and place. That ties back to his idea of the "cutting edge" of knowledge in Speculum Mentis. In Principles of Art, he writes:At the end of the day, a big reason I enjoy the universe is because it's beautiful and elegant in so many ways. So "art", or beauty and creativity, in all its infinite expressions, is pretty important, and in a sense we all are "instruments" of the DCM, and our experiences are the musical/artistic expressions, so life itself is "art", although that's a bit airy-fairy. Still, knowledge is the most important thing, and art is just there to help you enjoy the ride, and you won't get where you're going if you forget to depart the train because you're staring at the wallpaper either, osit. In other words, art makes the ride more pleasant, but it's a mistake to forget that you're going somewhere because you got hung up on the sights either.
That, at least, is the theory and practice of the 'aesthetic experience'. As for art itself, these are the final words of the book:Art is knowledge; knowledge of the individual. It is not on that account a purely ‘theoretical’ activity as distinct from a ‘practical’. ... An activity in ourselves which produces a change in us but none in our environment we call theoretical ; one which produces a change in our environment but none in ourselves we call practical. ...
... The individual of which art is the knowledge is an individual situation in which we find ourselves. ... Theoretically, the artist is a person who comes to know himself, to know his own emotion. This is also knowing his world, that is, the sights and sounds and so forth which together make up his total imaginative experience. The two knowledges are to him one knowledge, because these sights and sounds are to him steeped in the emotion with which he contemplates them: they are the language in which that emotion utters itself to his consciousness. His world is his language. What it says to him it says about himself; his imaginative vision of it is his self-knowledge.
But this knowing of himself is a making of himself. At first he is mere psyche, the possessor of merely psychical experiences or impressions. The act of coming to know him- self is the act of converting his impressions into ideas, and so of converting himself from mere psyche into consciousness. The coming to know his emotions is the coming to dominate them, to assert himself as their master. He has not yet, it is true, entered upon the life of morality; but he has taken an indispensable step forward towards it. He has learnt to acquire by his own efforts a new set of mental endowments. That is an accomplishment which must be learnt first, if later he is to acquire by his own effort mental endowments whose possession will bring him nearer to his moral ideal. ...
To return. The aesthetic experience ... is a knowing of oneself and of one’s world, these two knowns and knowings being not yet distinguished, so that the self is expressed in the world, the world consisting of language whose meaning is that emotional experience which constitutes the self, and the self consisting of emotions which are known only as expressed in the language which is the world. It is also a making of oneself and of one’s world, the self which was psyche being remade in the shape of consciousness, and the world, which was crude sensa, being remade in the shape of language, or sensa converted into imagery and charged with emotional significance. The step forward in the development of experience which leads from the psychic level to the level of consciousness (and that step is the specific achievement of art) is thus a step forward both in theory and in practice, although it is one step only and not two; as a progress along a railway-line towards a certain junction is a progress towards both the regions served by the two lines which divide at that junction. For that matter, it is also a progress towards the region in which, later, those two lines reunite.
...if it is to forgo both entertainment-value and magical value and draw a subject-matter from its audience themselves ... [art] must be prophetic. The artist must prophesy not in the sense that he foretells things to come, but in the sense that he tells his audience, at risk of their displeasure, the secrets of their own hearts. His business as an artist is to speak out, to make a clean breast. But what he has to utter is not, as the individualistic theory of art would have us think, his own secrets. As spokesman of his community, the secrets he must utter are theirs. The reason why they need him is that no community altogether knows its own heart; and by failing in this knowledge a community deceives itself on the one subject concerning which ignorance means death. For the evils which come from that ignorance the poet as prophet suggests no remedy, because he has already given one. The remedy is the poem itself. Art is the community’s medicine for the worst disease of mind, the corruption of consciousness.