Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is the Purpose of Art?

The "Why" Question.

I keep asking myself that. I also often wonder why some people are always asking the why question and others don't give it a moment's thought.

Upon Googling the question, "What is the purpose of art?" I soon found innumerable answers. In one forum where that very question was being discussed, here were just a few of the comments.

Personal Pleasure
" me as an artist, it gives me pleasure to create something. my pieces of art are like my children."

"The purpose of art is communication. Everything else is technique."

"I think the purpose of art is expression. ...The key thing to remember, I think, is that no matter what the artist 'says' with a work, what the viewer perceives may be vastly different. 'Starry Night' might be very peaceful to one person, and quite disturbing to another - and utterly inane to someone else!"

"God is a Creator and it says we're made in his image --- hence our need to create something. Everyone in his / her life has created something - even if it was a mud cake."

The religious comment above is a bit different from the religious purpose that historically captured artists. (Some would say shackled.) That is, for many centuries art was to be used in the service of the Church (with a capital C) and it was only in more recent centuries that art became a standalone industry.

When I was in college I had a friend who repeatedly said, "Eddie, the artist is the vanguard of the revolution." He saw the artist's role as a political tool.

In the 1800's, as a pushback to the pressure on artists to do religious or political art, there was birthed the Aesthetic movement which I wrote about a few weeks ago. "Art for art's sake" was their creed.

Functional Art
Bowls, dress patterns, the rooms we live can be bland or expressive, boring or interesting, even delightful. The world is a poorer place without art to dress it up. Who wants to live in a house with empty, bone white walls? I don't.

Therapeutic Value
Activities directors often use art in therapeutic ways in mental institutions. In addition to being a form of entertainment for children, it has some magical power to involve the deeper involvement of the psyche. And for me, it is a great way to immerse myself in something away from all the other pressures and responsibilities of life. It is liberating, satisfying and meaningful in some basic way. And the affirmations that come from sharing one's ideas and creative works, the connections that evolve, are equally satisfying.

This discussion here only scratches the surface of our inquiry. And doesn't go near deep enough to answer the real question I have been asking myself. Why do I make art?

Stick around and we'll keep exploring.

For the source of several of the quotes above visit

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