The Real Purpose of Art

Posted July 8, 2016 in ... Thoughts On Things

I recently saw a Ted Forbes video titled “Nobody Cares About Your Photography”. This video led me into thinking a bit introspectively about the purpose of Art in today’s world. I’m talking about true Art, be it great paintings, lovely musical compositions, moving drama, or inspired folk art.

Why do we need Art? It’s because it helps us find our place in the world. It encourages us to ponder larger issues like morality, human emotion, the significance of life, the awesome immensity of our universe. Now these topics seem grandiose, and it seems almost egotistical to think that any piece of artwork can provide even partial guidance. But good Art has always done that — it provokes deeper thinking about big issues.

And so for millennia we have used Art — symphonies, paintings, sculpture, writing, drama — to serve a higher purpose. It has helped to counteract the tough daily grind of life “in the trenches”. It reminded us of our greater potential. Art has lifted us from the dark ages to become more fully human; it has encouraged us in the industrial age to find our proper place on this great Earth. We have always looked to Art as a way — maybe THE way — to improve ourselves.

But times have changed. Our world has gotten more complex. Or at least that is what we tell ourselves. We want things to be easier — uncomplicated. And so we take the technological bait and steal fleeting glances at social media and online entertainment to quiet our minds weary of the complexity. Somehow we convince ourselves that we don’t need Art — we need Escape.

But it has never been easy to become better humans. It wasn’t easy for slaves in the 18th century; it wasn’t easy for textile workers in the 19th century. It wasn’t easy for laborers, housewives or soldiers in the 20th century. And it isn’t easy now.

Perhaps we don’t really need to see more selfies, paparazzi pics, or electronically enhanced celebrities. Maybe we don’t need more funny cat videos to fill those few minutes while waiting in line for coffee. We probably have enough of the fluff. We need something which can inspire us to be greater; something to remind us what it really means to be human. We need Art. And we need to demand it.

And speaking to photographers, it’s time to raise the bar for photography. Photographers have argued for long decades that their work is Art. Let’s demonstrate the truth of that. Let’s work hard to communicate meaningful ideas in an effective way. To paraphrase Ted, let’s make photographs that matter.

See Ted’s video here. Thanks Ted.