What Purpose, Art?

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A number of years ago, a coworker commissioned me to create a sculpture for his home. He wanted abstract that hinted at organic. So I welded him a sculpture that resembled an iron ocotillo in bloom. When it was finished, I brought it to him at work. The reaction not only from the coworker who’d commissioned the work, but also my other coworkers, was favorable.

Save one.

One of my coworkers shook his head and said, “That’s not art.” He then went to his cubicle, grabbed a coffee mug and set it in front of the sculpture. “The mug is art.”

Art, he said, must have function. You must be able to use it for some purpose.

Thus ensued a discussion among the cubicles of what is art, why we have art, what purpose art serves.

My coworker’s reaction and the subsequent discussion has rattled around in my brain ever since. I often wonder why creatives create and what purpose their creations serve. Or if they need to at all.

Some of the artwork I’ve created, and plan to create, have functionality. Furniture. Clothing. Jewelry. But a lot of what I create is simply visual work. Stained glass windows. Paintings. Sculpture.

I’ve never stopped to ask whether or not what I’m creating should have a function. I’ve simply taken what imaginations I’ve had and tried to make them real.

I’m curious what you think. I’d like to hear your opinions about art and how you philosophize it.

What is art?

What purpose does art serve?

Does art need to be functional?


2 thoughts on “What Purpose, Art?

    Blythe said:
    June 22, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Art is skilled making and skilled making depends upon inspiration. It is therefore found as much in the act of a chimp using a twig to collect termites as it is in Albrecht Durer’s self portrait (here, it hurts). Both have their function. Purpose is (by definition) in intent. The function may be instrumental or intentional. Your friend with the cup was an instrumentalist. And probably a turd. I’m a turd too, or I wouldn’t even try to answer these questions.

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      June 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm

      By far one of the most interesting comments I’ve ever received on this blog. I’d never have considered a chimp using a twig to collect termites as art. Fascinating. Lots to think about. Thanks, Blythe. 🙂

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