Art is at the center of all human cultures. Art is everywhere. The more we examine it, the more art seems to be a permanent part of human nature. The purpose of this blog is to answer the question, “Why art?”.
Art is one of the few things that transcends culture. Art exists in every known human culture—and in some non-human ones too. In fact, a variety of animals create art as well. Art appears to be a fundamental aspect of being human. And yet, there’s no consensus about why art exists and what its purpose may be.
Time for some answers!
That’s a question I get asked a lot, and it’s always frustrating. Because the real answer is, “Why not?”
I don’t mean to imply that art is some kind of random thing that just happens to people. I mean that art has causes, reasons. And I’m going to try to explain why art happens now, and what might happen next.
In the past two or three decades, something new has been happening in art. It’s been happening in multiple media — in music, painting, sculpture, film, dance, performance — but it’s also been happening in other fields too: technology and design, journalism and writing and publishing.
The biggest change is that it’s become okay to make things without a specific use in mind. Of course there are still plenty of useful things being made — food, clothing, shelter — but increasingly there are ways of making art that aren’t really about anything except the process of making itself.
This is more than okay; this is great! In fact I would argue that it’s essential for the health of a society and the development of culture to have places where things are made just because they’re interesting or beautiful or fun to think about.
Why art? Why do humans create art?
Why don’t we devote those same resources to something more useful, like curing cancer?
Why are artists so different from the rest of us?
Why do artists feel compelled to create, often at great personal cost?
These questions keep coming up, and have been pondered by many people over the centuries. As an artist myself, I’ve thought a lot about why I make art, and what it means. And today, as this blog reaches its end, I’d like to share some of my conclusions with you.
The question “Why art?” is usually asked by people who know something about art but not much about business. In order to answer the question, one must first look at the purpose of art and its relation to business.
The purpose of art is simply for enjoyment, for the sheer pleasure of experiencing it. Art is a means of experiencing the world in a way that allows one to gain further understanding and appreciation. It provides insight into the human condition and can create an emotional response that may be impossible without that creative outlet.
Art in itself is not profitable. It will not make you money—unless you are an artist or related to an artist or somehow connected to the arts in some way, then it will make you money (if your work is good). If you want money, art is not the profession for you. But if you want to experience life in a way that makes life more interesting and enjoyable, then art might be the right choice for you.
Art is a difficult subject to define.
There are two major ways to define art. One is by motivation and the other is by product. The first approach relies on the idea that the artist must have some sort of aesthetic purpose in mind, and that his work is intended to create some sort of emotional response in the audience. The second approach, however, defines art as any product created for aesthetic reasons, regardless of the intentions of the artist.
The first definition is problematic because it does not include many types of art such as crafts and architecture, which are generally considered very important parts of culture. If art must have a specific purpose behind it, these things cannot be classified as art. The second definition, however, can obviously lead to problems as well. If anything can be defined as art without any consideration for its content or form, then there are many things that could be classified as art that would make no sense at all.
This blog will focus primarily on the motivation behind art rather than its product or results. It will also investigate other aspects of art such as history and aesthetics, but only insofar as they relate to motivation.
Art is the most important thing humans do. We have a popular culture that pretends to be art, but it is mostly commercial or political. Art is where we put our best effort.
The purpose of art is to delight, to excite and move us by showing us something new and profound. Art creates the metaphors we use to understand ourselves and our place in the universe. Art creates culture, which is what makes us human.
Taste in art separates the people who create it from the people who use it: those who make art care about it a lot more than those who consume it. If you are reading this, your taste in art has been elevated by exposure to great art; you have been inspired and motivated by artists who came before.
If you love art, if you want to help re-create culture, and if you don’t know how or what to do, I invite you to help me with this project.*”
The question “why art?” is a big one, and it’s not the first time it’s been asked. Consider the following line from The Picture of Dorian Gray:
“What is the chief end of man?—to get rid of his existence as quickly as possible.”
This line is spoken by an interior character, Lord Henry Wotton, who may or may not be a stand-in for Oscar Wilde himself. The line has been interpreted as everything from a philosophical statement to a nihilistic one to an elitist one. In context, I believe that it is intended as all three.
But what I’d like to focus on here is its artistic aspect. Why does the question “why art?” arise in the first place? And why does it arise in this particular novel?
(And why do I think that Wilde meant this question to be at least partly rhetorical?)