What is Art for?
We recently had this exchange in my house.
5 year old: “Mummy. Your job is not very important is it?”
Me: “Is it not? Why not?”
5 year old: “No. Because you just take pictures don’t you?”
Since then this topic has cropped up in various guises just before bedtime or walking home from school. It has clearly taken root. So we continue with my darling daughter interrogating me on why pictures are important and me scrambling for some sensible and convincing answers that will make sense in simple terms. Nothing like what comes out of the mouth of babes to keep you grounded.
The main reasons of my defence are…
Pictures are important because:
1. They help you understand the world.
Throughout history people have made artistic responses to culture, society and events that help us understand what is going on behind the scenes. From Orwell and Kafka to Gilbert and George art helps us see circumstances from a different perspective from the authorised version. This is an important role of the artist. Often artists have a responsibility, a heavy responsibility that could result in imprisonment or worse, to tell the story of an underlying truth. To wake people up and speak up against a system.
2. They help you understand yourself.
Sometimes art is less gung ho. Sometimes it’s just about someones struggle with their personal history (Tracey Emin springs to mind). Sometimes art is made to express something that it is difficult to put into words and sometimes that is OK. To get to a point of deeper understanding or empathy with yourself. It can be therapeutic and healing to engage in such art.
3. They connect you to other people.
Why is Tracey Emin so popular? You might well wonder! But it really is important to be connected to humanity. When we see a picture or a sculpture that validates something of our own experience, whatever that might be, it gives us a sense of stability. These shared experiences, even if they include messiness, bring connection and hope.
4. They connect you to something bigger than yourself.
Often artists have described their creation as something that came to them. Jeanette Winterson said of her first and brilliant novel Oranges are not the only fruit that it felt like it was downloaded into her from a force. This pull or force is an amazing feeling and although it doesn’t happen often, and there is of course a place for the hard grind, the feeling of creating something that comes from somewhere Other is motivating to say the least.
5. Beautiful things help you feel better.
This is described well in the video below. But who doesn’t love beauty?!
What do you think about the 5 purposes of art outlined in this video?
What do you think art is for?