The function of art has always been a point of debate, with the definition of the word itself changing with time resulting in a more open and free interpretation of it. One can say that art is the creation of pathways which connect and allow us to respond to our individual perceptions of the world. These lead to the creation of movements, ideas, debates and discussions. In a world so divided within itself yet also paradoxically connected, art allows us to step back and look at things in a way which might not have been possible through any other medium. It helps us break down misconceptions and allows us to see opposite sides of various debates and issues in a new light. Through the variety of media that it makes use of, it caters to different groups of people and allows us to come to a meaning and interpretation of our own, on an intimate basis.
Artistic concepts and products are not only able to resonate with individuals and groups of people, but also help us to reflect on the current state of society, respond to it as well as take a very active role in the creation and reworking of the social fabric which holds us all together. The exchange of ideas through works of literature, for example, serves as a conversation through time, allowing for readings and re-readings of text and preserved language. With time this gives rise to different interpretations and thereby also sheds a light on the way values, norms and philosophies have progressed and changed. This web of ideas and information is intimately linked and bound with history, politics and science in such a way that it serves as a glue or even a messenger between the different fields of research.
One of the most important functions of art, in my opinion, is it’s role in the shaping of society. While we usually take it for granted that art responds and reflects on society, a more fundamental level at which art functions is the experimentation with possible and alternative realities. All that is a product of the mind of man is art (art understood as an artifice, in that it is conceived and created by man). Art is not simply a painting, a theatre piece or a book as it can be found in all fields which require any form of problem solving or critical thinking. All fields which strive to achieve maximum efficiency through the development of new technologies rely on creativity in order to find ways to achieve their goals. Whether the product manifests itself into a physical or theoretical result is not of great consequence as this does not change it’s status. One can say that art is therefore a product of philosophical ideals. It can be a search for a meaning in a meaningless world, or enigmatically a reveal and exhibit of the meaning of life itself. Creation is therefore also the highest form of critical thinking, a form of discovery of new ways one can look at life. This process in itself is also an expression and a form of art.
If philosophy asks questions on the meaning of life, what it is to be and what we should be doing with our time on earth, then art offers us visual and non-visual means of understanding these abstract concepts. Fundamentally art allows us to undergo experiences which allow us to grow as people and with people. In fact it is no secret that certain things in life are unexplainable to others. Experiences in particular can only be understood in full, if the time, context, feelings, headspace and all overarching factors meet at a unique point in time to create that very moment. A moment which is impossible to recreate or relive.
As such this process also allows us to come into contact with the more dark and introspective sides to life. They allow us a brief understanding into our own conditions and limitations as human beings and make us more aware of our relatively brief time on earth. As such art has the ability to inspire us to make better use of our time in order to live life in a more fulfilling way. Such experiences have indeed also produced some of the most thought provoking, critical and insightful pieces of work. Whether they be novels, poems, paintings, music, film or any other artistic product, they have given us an insight into our nature as human beings. The exploration of themes such as nostalgia, desire, expectations, ambition, despair and hope (to name a few), paint us as creators subject to their own limits.
Through art, meaning is both destroyed whilst simultaneously created. A cycle of discussing and re-interpretation of ideas and questions put forward since the time of Greek philosophers. Questions which underpin the very values and workings of society as well as civilization. As our interpretation of these questions vary so will the art and therefore society. In fact there is no other body more important than art which can give us as good of an understanding or critique of the inner workings of society as art can. This is because art is the only medium which is in constant contact and dialogue with these inner foundations. As such it effects absolutely everything which lies upon it, ranging from it’s functions and roles to it’s aims and directions.
The beauty of art is not only that it can be painstakingly complex and sophisticated, but that it can also be simple and therefore accessible to everyone. In my eyes art is one of the most important aspects to life and the main, if not the centrepiece to personhood for it denies no one the ability of contributing or participating in it.
Written by: Veronika Mercieca