The definition of art remains controversial and multifarious, but the diverse functions of art get better once you allow your conscience to absorb and understand diverse perspectives that art offers.
The purposes, motivations, intentions, and inspirations behind the art are endless.
Being one of the most creative ways of expressing human experience, we have used art as a means of telling stories.
May it be the story of a single person, of a community, or of a nation, art has in many ways contributed to the beautiful way these stories are told.
We’ve put together a list of 25 functions of art based on the viewpoints from renowned artists and philosophers for you to reflect upon
1. Art as an Expression
Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one person consciously, by certain external signs, conveys to others feelings he has experienced, and other people are affected by these feelings and live them over in themselves.” – Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s famous “Expression Theory” centered on the idea that art elicits and provokes emotion in the viewer.
Out of many styles of expression, Abstract Expressionism is one great example where artists are empowered with the liberty to convey attitudes and emotions through nontraditional and usually nonrepresentational means.
The prominent function of art always drawn toward the expression theory.
Artists like Jackson Pollock believed that it was the viewer (and not the artist) who defines and interprets the meaning of the abstract expressionist artwork thus, there is no relevance on what artist thinks or conveys while producing the work.
Convergence by Jackson Pollock is one of the initial art pieces of abstract expressionism and considered as the bravest action paintings ever made
The modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating” – Jackson Pollock
2. Art empowers our faith in the nobility of man (Humanism)
“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand” – Pablo Picasso
One of the most powerful shifts resulted from the Renaissance period is that the Church was never a responsible source for their behavior and beliefs towards God and fellow men and that they themselves are responsible for the actions. One of the key aspects of what makes us human is revolving around our faith in religion, art, and culture
3. The creation of beauty is art
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art” – Ralph Waldo
When it comes to art, some may say that not all art is beautiful, that, in fact, it should not be beautiful, always.
Beauty is what you make of it, what your preference is, what calls to your heart, soul, and mind.
What is beauty in art? – Beauty is what we see as characteristic and harmonious.
Whatever different reactions art will about inside you, it is clear that the explanation is complicated and definitive.
Every piece of art, whether a painting, a vase or a statue, will have different colors, lines, and textures that will appeal to your soul and heart.
4. Know Thyself
“Creative without strategy is called ‘art.’ Creative with strategy is called advertising” – Jef Richards, educator
Art is a form of expressing oneself
Consciously or unconsciously artists are following Socrates’ command – Know thyself.
During this process, artists are exploring their subject, medium, and material, rebalancing the spiritual value of those elements, thereby experiencing the subtle preciousness of their awareness.
This interaction is beautiful which in fact leads to the inevitable desire for outward expression.
Art is born here.
5. Art is freedom in every sense
“Art is meant to disturb. Science reassures” – Georges Braque, painter
One decides to express the imagination is brave. The value of freedom in our creative expression cannot be overstated.
What about aestheticizing violence? What about creating art in gigantic forms?
What about choosing topics that are controversial? Different expressive media have a tendency to attract different personalities.
Phillipe Perrin, known for his huge artworks revolving around the subjects of evil and crime, chooses subjects that have the power to instill immediate shock and presents them in a bold way that ensures they do.
One of Perrin’s famous works, Bloodymary, blends the line between theatre, sculpture, and performance art through the lens of murder.
The artist uses unconventional medium and subject to place the viewer face to face with images inexorably tied to modern violence, subtly aestheticizing the violence in art.
The true meaning of art can be multifarious, but the purpose of art is met when such artists like Perrin uses art in innovative and unconventional ways.
6. Art sends strong messages from the sidewalk to the world at large
“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint” – Bansky
Street art has proven itself to be a truly expressive art form.
It is not an inferior form of political outcry nor is it the indifferent rebellion of disaffected youth.
Street art thinks, feels, and evokes thoughts and emotions in the people that view it with an open mind.
Using iconic imagery that is often recognizable regardless of language, the street artist is able to speak his opinions and solutions to a global audience, making this a rapidly advancing form of art the world over.
7. Art is the most intense mode of individualism
“Art is either plagiarism or revolution” – Paul Gauguin, painter
Famous artist Paul Gauguin once written – “One must always feel the plane, the wall; tapestries need no perspective”
Paul Gauguin’s art, style, and legacy reflected strongly in his artworks and often dismantled the traditional perspectives of art.
Gauguin was once of a few ordinary men that were able to leave mundane life to realize and fulfill a dream – to become an artist.
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin is a great example of individualism where Gauguin said to read from right to left instead of from left to right – which in fact provides an entirely different perspective to the reader, which itself shows the true power and meaning of art
8. Art shifts realism into reality
“Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn’t look like a painting of something; it looks like the thing itself.” – Roy Lichtenstein
We’re living in a time where our beliefs and messages must be braver and rendered more boldly than ever before.
Popular culture was shrouding everything in the 1950’s and 60’s in America, and maintaining the status quo became more important than ever.
The power of pop art has been emerging since then and continuously breaking all conformist perspectives and definitions of art
Whereas abstract artists sought to let the medium control the image, such as in Pollock’s drops of paint.
Pop Artists went beyond realism into reality.
9. Great art tells meaningful stories
“Art does not reproduce what is visible; it makes things visible.” Paul Klee, artist
The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau – One of the most perceptible modern pieces of art, currently resides in MoMA Newyork, has been considered as one of the many inspiring works by poets and musicians and also frequently parodied.
In this masterpiece, both, lion and woman display a calm demeanor on this artwork, but actually, both are on the alert warning that the trust between two worlds may get violated anytime.
10. Art validates our sorrows
“Art grows from joy and sorrow, but mostly from sorrow. It grows from human lives” – Edvard Munch
Art helps us see that sorrow can be beautiful and noble and still be one aspect of a good life.
Art also helps us to suffer alone without the input of society so that we can show a dignified face to the world in our public sorrow.
The true meaning of art lies in the emotion, considering sorrow is one prominent expression that we embody, art always validates our sorrows. “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t.
I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” said Frida Kahlo, a great artist who infused her canvas with her native Mexican birthright and the historical epochs of her life.
11. Art is a personal act of courage
“Art is a personal act of courage” – Seth Godin
Courage is more important than creativity. Great art comes from the heart, doesn’t come from doing what you’re told. The mesmerizing charm of a great work of art doesn’t come from what is painted on the canvas. Rather, it comes from what was in the artist’s heart while he was painting. Franz Krueger’s The Parade auf Opernplatzis a great example of that. Krueger shows us that true art can be created only through courage, the strength of character, and determination. The meaning of art implies a personal and open proliferation of your thoughts.
12. Art is the signature of civilizations
“Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Humanity advances on the great foundations built by ancestors. We transform the heritage of the past, learn the social aspects, identify new opportunities and invent new ways of life. In this journey, the past lives remain as a reference point as a subtle guide to build great things in this modern world.
At Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, you will be amazed by the galleries of “The art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and later South Asia” section, where you will experience some of the finest masterpieces from the Islamic world, moreover enables you to understand the artistic and scientific heritage of an entire civilization. Rightly said by Roger Seruton, the culture of civilization is the art and literature through which it rises to the consciousness of itself and defines the vision of the world
13. Art embodies power and of color
“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment” – Claude Monet
Colors are powerful. Doesn’t matter what you might be creating now – a painting, or a powerpoint presentation, or an illustration – your eyes must be straying over a palette, splashed with many colors, choosing the right one to add to your work. To a sensitive soul, the impact of a perfect color combination is deeper and intensely moving.
Visual art always played an important role for artists to convey the life, lustre, and power of life through colors
14. Art is Attitude
“Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics”- Victor Pinchuk
Art has taken a different dimension to think, feel and evoke thoughts in the people that view it with an open mind. Art represents the attitude either of an artist or of a belief system. Street art is often considered as vandalism, but it is executed with purpose, design, technique and intention. Street art heightens our experience of the visual landscape outside museum walls.
15. Art is the highest form of hope
“Art is not a thing; it is a way.” Elbert Hubbard, artist
Art can move us to tears. Beautiful art can bring tears of joy when we see a painting, sculpture or photograph of people or creatures experiencing things we want to experience. Experiencing such heart-warming feelings about it encourages us to hope for the same thing for ourselves.
Mutiny of Colours, A Project of Love, Peace, and Unity by Iranian Street Artists is one great example. The powerful messages of peace, love, and hope in a country torn apart by internal conflicts are represented by Iranian street artists through their art, and mostly these works grow in all endless direction, both metaphorically, conceptually and physically.
16. Art is about two things – Life and Death
“The goal of all life is death” – Sigmund Freud
Many artists have used death as a theme for art.
By giving death as a central theme, artists force us to confront the reality of birth and death within the same frame. Hope II by Gustav Klimt is one great art – represents a pregnant woman and the weight of hope the protagonist carried in her womb. The function of art lies around the diverse perspectives of life and death
Birth and death exist side-by-side, suspended in equilibrium, collaborators in the appetite of living.
17. Art rebalances our life
“Art is like soup. There will be some vegetables you don’t like but as long as you get some soup down you it doesn’t matter.” George Wyllie, Sculptor
Viewing art that depicts situations and feelings outside of what we normally experience on a daily basis helps us attain balance in our emotions by filling those voids.
We gain balance through art by taking a moment to observe, judge, and appreciate things we don’t normally see and our responses to them.
18. Art can be surreal
“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos” – Stephen Sondheim
Surrealism – a philosophical and artistic movement that explored the unconscious mind – reveals human emotions and desires in an irrational, powerful, poetic and revolutionary way. The concept has a greater relevance considering it brought out the repressed inner worlds of sexuality, violence, dream, and desire.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali shows us a few seemingly soft or melted pocket watches lying about in open land. Dali’s message was to show that time and space are relative and that we, in fact, live in a universe of complete disorder.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
19. Art is You
“Art is anything you can get away with”- Andy Warhol
Art helps us to complete our own unformed thoughts and ideas. We have an ‘aha’ moment when we see a piece of art that perfectly captures a feeling or thought we have had that we couldn’t express. When this happens, we have gained a new knowledge through the art that we can now communicate to ourselves and to others.
This why the best possible function of art operates via YOU.
20. Art is discovery and exploration
“Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use”- Frank Lloyd Wright
Is it not more remarkable when a natural talent emerges from nothingness to produce a work of art with an organic honesty that might have been wiped out by years of training in established structures, conventions, and accepted wisdom?
One such unlikely place was a tax collector’s office in Paris, and its unlikely talent came in the form of a Lavalborn son of a plumber named Henri Rousseau. The majority of Rousseau’s life is somewhat cloudy, and with good reason—it is wholly unexceptional.
The Snake Charmer by Henri Rousseau is a dreamlike depiction of mysterious human and animal forms in a jungle scene. This work is a testament to the attention Rousseau received from prominent artists during his time.
21. Art empowers the heart of people
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas
When activists are showing images of children suffering from poverty or oppression in their campaigns, this is the art pulling the heartstrings of society’s elite and powerful to make changes. Such moments – using art to raise awareness – truly validate the existence and definition of art
When photographers publish the photos of war-torn areas, it catches the attention of masses whose hearts reach out for those who need help. When the artist creates great music and movies, it entertains people around the world. This is art, making a difference in society.
22. Culture is a great friend of art
“Art speaks the soul of its culture” – Abby Willowroot
Art is also a remarkable mode of depicting culture from all over the world, art and culture complement each other very well. Do you know the definition of culture?
When you see a Zen garden in Sydney or San Francisco, you know that it’s a practice that originated from China. When you see paper swans swarming a beautiful wedding ceremony, you know that this is origami, an art that came from Japan. When you see films featuring Bollywood music and dancing, you know that it’s a movie from India. Destinations like Newyork, Berlin, Prague, Sao Paulo, UAE, etc. are on a helm of cultural revolution to uplift their cities with art, design, and imagination
23. Art is activism
“Art resides in the quality of doing, the process is not magic.” – Charles Eames
Art has been used many times to represent the isolation, claustrophobia, and anxiety of our society due to the tough political times that we’re living at present. Tetsuya Ishida, a Japanese artist, portrayed the Japanese life about the social, economic and academic educational structures. Many of his works exposed the Japanese people’s trials in trying to acclimate to the changes involving social and technological contemporary life. Read – Tetsuya Ishida – Saving the World With A Brushstroke
Similarly, a lot of street art has an obvious, or sometimes very subtle, anti-establishment hint in it. The very mediums it uses, owned by states or corporations, are protected by law from the artist but are used without regard or in spite of it. That illegality is often a part of the message
24. Art is harmony
“Art is harmony” – George Seaurat
The power of art lies neither in the image nor the emotions it arouses in the viewer, rather its greatness is derived from understanding the creative forces which inspired the masterpiece. Harmony is a subjective concept, rather it emerges within a context that many factors come together. Goya’s black paintings series is a great example that proves this theory. Today, although we are exposed to images of gore, misery, and grief, much of it is sanitized and censored. Goya, on the other hand, unabashedly captures human trauma and sorrow in the paint.
25. Art as Therapy
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”- Thomas Merton
In the famous book Art as Therapy, the authors have outlined seven functions of art and explain how art helps us grow and evolve in our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world we live in. Taking your time to mindfully observe artwork can be of true value to your emotional well-being.
Conclusion: The functions of art remain incomprehensible
‘What is art?’— one question continuously steers educators, performers, practitioners, and philosophers to engage in deep analysis. But no matter what the function of art may be, the experience it delivers finally matters, and probably one reason it has been around us for as long as humans have existed. Whether or not we are aware of it, we allow art to affect our lives one way or another.
You may not know it, but your daily existence can be much more colorful with the presence and influence of art, and it only gets better once you allow your own creativity and imagination to take a turn for good.
So go ahead and open yourself up to art. It will be worth the change.