The Purpose of Art

This subject contains so many conundrums that to attempt to address this in a short essay will for sure come up short. But talking about this I think is valuable if only to nudge both maker and viewer away from the status quo and allow something deeper to emerge hopefully.

In my own experience I began making art early on completely enamored by the idea that I could express whatever I wanted in an arena that traditionally accommodated the non-traditional. The larger art world was something that I wanted to be identified with. Walking around with paint on my clothes made me different. Albeit I was still a teenager,but this idea of different meant something and art was the perfect vehicle. The excitement of making things that could be confrontational or question the very notion of what art was kept driving the creative process despite my limited technical skills at that point in time.

As a maker art began to define what was important to me. Different mattered. Expressing whatever I wanted mattered. I always hesitated calling myself an artist because I knew that title was earned and not earned by success but rather by persevering when everything around you said enough, go do something else. I knew I hadn’t been tested despite being on the road. Anyone can make art but that doesn’t make you an artist. Purpose makes an artist and that purpose then goes out into the world on a mission.

Purpose for the maker is commitment to craft and to authentic ideas much like your fingerprint and voice resonance is you. The ‘is you’ is everything for the artist. Until that happens calling yourself an artist is questionable. Commitment to something you care about and eliminating everything else is required. Staying with that commitment in the face of all discouragements and questioning makes you an artist. Ultimately, arriving at an unapologetic expression of yourself defines the artist you might be.

A friend and artist Tom Doyle once said that “if you are having fun making art your most likely not an artist.” I understood exactly what he meant. An artist who has this level of commitment to what they do has a power that others do not. They have the power to move people. To express something at a deeper level that strikes a chord within the viewer that can’t be reached in any other way. It transcends language, culture and most other barriers. This is what I mean when I say ‘there is the appearance of art and then there is art.’ For me, when I see a performance or read a book and it moves me I become so thankful that this person or people had dedicated themselves to what they do. Imagine all of the things we would be deprived of if someone in the solitude of their studio, office, rehearsal space or whatever hadn’t committed to the excellence of what they were passionate about.

As artists we play a critical role in this society and in all others before us. Despite the attempt of politicians, scientists, psychologists and medicine to fix us or lead the way historically it has been the artist who has represented and identified a generation and culture. The times we live in will ultimately repeat the process. The art of our time will define who we were and who we are. Ideas of value use the other fields as our expressions but expression is the thing that lives on. One of the world’s most unique occurrences summed this up best. Picasso declared a profound truth worth spending time thinking about and relating to whatever it is that we attempt to contribute to the continuum of creativity. “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”. The ability to reach someone’s soul is it. Purpose. That is what an artist’s life is capable of. What else can be said?

Image: Tom Doyle, Phoenix, wood

in my quest to use the above image to show what in my view is some of the best work in the world I have included one of Tom’s sculptures. I was fortunate to have shown Tom’s work for many years.


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