Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Does Art have a purpose? Does the Artist have a purpose?

Why should anyone care about Art? Does Art do anything for people? For society? Should it? Should people care?

In the philosophically relative times we live in I find it very interesting to talk with so many people about art and hear so many definitions of what art is. I would propose the question, if we do not know what art is, how can we make it? Similarly, if we do not know what is the purpose of the artist, how can an artist intentionally fulfill that purpose?

From my observations, art does two things, not unrelated. The first purpose of art is to express something of what it is to be human. Art talks about the experience of living. In drawing or painting, the artist does this visually. In music they do it audibly. In poetry it can be written or oral. And on and on. Whatever the artist, a purpose of the work is to express something about the world from their own point of view. This sounds basic, but without the intention, it is hard to accomplish. Maybe this is the difference between students and professionals. The student studies everything for the purpose of learning. The work a student does is very broad and inclusive. The professional has an opinion and a focus.

Another function of art is that it assigns a value. When an artist creates a work one statement the artist makes, by default, is the emphasis of the work. The artist says:

"You should think about this."

"Contemplate this."

"This is important."

"This has value."

By sheer virtue of the artist paying attention to something, and others looking at it, it gives it a measure of importance. Similar to the saying "Any press is good press". Don't we pay attention to things of importance? So if the artist gets people to pay attention to their work, doesn't that give it some additional importance?

I think artists should be mindful of this. If you're an artist you should talk about the important things in your life in your work. This gives some additional value to those things, and as a result, some additional value to living in a world with it. Whether it's an idea, another person, or the planet itself. This is what I love about drawing or painting other people. It says that the other person is valuable! I believe this! It gets me fired up!

I also want to add, this is what really riles me about a perspective of "modern art". "modern art" says that portraits or landscapes are old ways of painting, old ways of doing things, and we need to always be on a quest for something new and different (notice, not necessarily on a quest for anything better). Have people lost value? Is the planet not worth paying attention to? This is a load of nonsense. People have value. The planet we live on has value. LIVING has value.

THIS is the purpose of the artist. The artist gives value to life, to living, by stating the importance of the life and world around them.


  1. How can the artist the valuable things in our lives, which are invisible- relationships, conversations, emotions, ideas? Is the frustration you have more a matter of medium- maybe many of the ideas of 'modern art' would be better expressed in word or song? If an artist assigns value in a depiction, but you do not feel the same value, does that make it not art? What about different styles playing to different audiences? Is the goal of art to reach all people or is ok to reach just some people?

  2. That's part of the challenge of the artist, to express. The point of art is to communicate something. Art shouldn't be judged on how many people resonate with the message (although the more universal the message, the more people will relate), but the quality of the message and how well the artist says it. The better your skills at whatever is your artistry, the better your ability to communicate, not the other way around (ie: skills get in the way of your expression. As if my skills with the english language got in the way of my being able to communicate with others).

    Whatever is the value can be evaluated on exactly that. The work of an artist should be evaluated on whatever statement the artist is making. A big problem with todays artists is that the work does not make the statement for them. Ever seen a painting that required a paragraph description? A song that required a music video? If an artist has to go out of the bounds of the original work to further explain what they were trying to accomplish, I would say that the meaning is that the original work failed in the communication. Doesn't that make the point of the original work frivolous? Shouldn't the work stand for itself?

  3. Another thing I would like to mention is that I did not say that art is a necessity of life. It is a luxury. People who grow food, make houses, stitch clothing, etc... those are the people who make living POSSIBLE. The artist is one who makes living worthwhile. The artist inspires peeps to want to live.

  4. I enjoy your definition and purpose of art...

    An engineer once told me that a world with out artist would be depressing. Art is a sign of excess but I think it has value in rerouting our attention to things - going back to your definition - that we think are noteworthy. Sometimes this means pointing out things that are overvalued. Humor and sarcasm are everywhere in language today and the same goes for art. Nuanced devices in a language can trigger communicative short cuts (cu l8er) but they can also be seen as an affront to original usages or methods. I'm rambling now...

    Perhaps a modernist paintings say 'painting is valuable and I'd like us to think about how a painting is made' or perhaps 'color is valuable'

    I don't think that rock music necessarily says 'classical music can shove it'. Likewise: Texting is at odds with academic writing. Such a generic application value cannot be assigned 1.2.3.etc. in these cases. Art requires more than counting or sorting.

  5. Sanderval, thanks for the response. My thoughts are these:

    1- if modern art is saying that "painting is valuable" then we would have a proper scale to rate it, to some degree anyway. What's more valuable, a painting or a person? Which would raise the question then why a representation artist, who is trying to convey the value of a person, could get 50,000 dollars for a painting, and a modern artist like Damian Hirst can get hundreds of millions of dollars for one of his works? Without any system to evaluate anything, we end up with the madness we see in front of us now.. complete relativity.

    2) In certain ways I agree with your last paragraph. Problem is either extreme is no good. We can't just have the traditions but we can't just try to forge our own path either. We've got to take the traditions and apply them to the present so we can forge our own path.

  6. Life itself is an expression of a powerful creative source; and from this, art is revealed to us in many forms - and not just for entertainment. For those who have felt the unforgettable resonating energy that reaches deep inside the spirit/soul while experiencing a work of art, the necessity of art is no longer questioned or denied.

  7. To the previous poster: your comment acted as an end to the conversation. I thought there were some more ideas still out there, so I want to ask: Do you feel there are some people who haven't felt that resonating energy? How do you think they react to art? Why haven't they felt it?

    Additionally: Michael, do you see it as wrong for Hirst to make millions of dollars for a piece? How can we discuss the market value of different works? Both the personal emotional response and controversy add to the market value.

  8. I can't argue with the free market. If somebody sees hundreds of millions of dollars in value in his work, and they're willing to pay it, then I guess it's worth that.

    The problem with Hirst is in the way people are assigning the value. In modern art there is much more emphasis on the story and the concept, rather than the end product. People value the artist more than the work. Take the signature off of the work, then how much is it worth? The work should speak for itself and hold it's own value.

    The problem with Hirst making hundreds of millions isn't the free market, it's the inability of the free market to assign a value. Not understanding any sort of function or purpose of art. The first analogy that comes to mind would be creating a fake company on the stock market. It wouldn't be about what the company is actually producing, it's about the reputation the company has for overperformance and growth; attracting new investors, and paying out in the manner of a ponzi scheme.

    If this weren't the case, you'd be able to take the signature off of the work and evaluate the result (real performance). Instead, we live in a world where the smallest scribble with the right signature fetches tens of thousands of dollars. All style, no substance.