The 3 Purposes For Art
If we are to assign a purpose or multiple purposes for art, we could come up with at least 3. I personally feel that there isn’t any purpose for art, but that discussion is for another time.
The first purpose would be to entertain.
The second purpose would be to inform.
The third purpose would be to widen perspectives.
It is possible for a work of art to have a combination of purposes, for example, it is possible for a work of art to both entertain and inform. But, it is not possible for a work of art to inform and widen perspectives. These two purposes contradict each other and make it impossible for a work of art to have both. However, the naming of these purposes and how they interact with each other hasn’t been the predominant realisation I’ve been reflecting on lately.
It appears, at least to me, that the vast majority of art nowadays falls under or is a combination of the first two purposes: entertainment and information. This appears to be the case because there are no new realisations being formed through art anymore. A lot of art seems to be copies of previous, more acclaimed, works of art. And while there’s nothing wrong with making art for the first two purposes, the lack of the third purpose is telling.
What makes the works of art that are made to widen perspectives great for us is not only do they enable us to see life in different and creative ways, and inspire us, make us wonder, and help us to escape our mental prisons, if even for a brief moment, but that these works can enable us to do all this in a way that is safe. A film is just a film, a book is just a book, a song is just a song, a painting is just a painting. It’s not as if we’re building planes and risking lives. If a film doesn’t work out, fine. We move on. No harm done.
But the realisation that we are not innovating in art, especially when it is safe to do so, reflects that we’re not interested in becoming wiser, but are more interested in being right. Hence, why there are so many works of art that inform, or tell people how we ought to behave, as opposed to works of art that provoke thought.
Of course, the financial incentive makes it difficult for artists to take risks, as they often get paid very little, but there’s no reason why artists couldn’t have another way of earning a living while they make the art that interests them. There are practical solutions that we can work towards to make more innovative works of art. It’s that we don’t do it that’s the problem.
And while we can debate indefinitely as to why artists who have the talent and the interest to make these innovative works of art don’t, we could at least put forward the realisation that pessimism is having some influence on this outcome. Artists believe that nothing new can be created and thus, they don’t create anything new.
This is quite the dilemma, because how can you convince someone that there are still new things, new ideas, to be created when it hasn’t been created yet? But this is why art needs optimism. Not a blind optimism, where artists parochially believe that they’ll without a shadow of a doubt create some new work of art that’ll change the world, but a form of optimism that stems from conjecture and error correction, where the artist has no idea what’ll happen, but they’re willing to experiment, try new things, see the results and refine and refine and refine, over and over again.
Art doesn’t been to be right, but has to be optimistic.
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Dersu Uzala (1975) - Dir Akira Kurosawa