Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off of our souls.” George Orwell, describes writing as an addictive passion and suggests leaving behind a purpose, for the sheer beauty of creation and the search for truth. These artists believe that the purpose of art is to serve the artist; to release the creative tension building inside, and create when struck by the urge to create. These are the artists who create to feel, to be, and to become.
Ernest Becker said, “Man can not endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.” Yoko Ono said, “The spirit of art is to express the truth.” These artists believe the purpose of art is to serve society; to affect change and action, promote dialogue and feeling, and inspire. These are the artists who wish to aggravate the moral consciousness of the people.
All of these artists might agree that truth is the nature of art, but as we struggle to define art, we struggle to define truth. Truth is flexible, moldable to fit a situation. What do we gain from defining truth? We do not. By defining these cornerstones of our society—of freedom—we take away their power, we take away their freedom, and thereby, we take away our freedom.
Ultimately we find that there is no nature to art or truth. Art and truth are indefinable entities, which simply exist within their own realm of our own cognizance. They are free to use, and be used, without limitation. We attempt to define things in order to better understand them, but we find that by placing definitions, we ultimately restrict what would be.
Human beings have a longing inside of them; a longing for purpose, for passion, for totality. It is chemical, unexplainable, often unattainable, but we all know it exists inside of a knot in our stomach or the deepest depths of our psyche. For the artist, it is the urge to create. Artists are able to decondition their thinking, to transcend traditional modalities of thinking and of truth.
Artists are able to transcribe their journey—their observation of what is—into tangible aesthetic output, bringing their new perspective back to the people. When the artist, seized by inspiration, enters this flow state, the boundaries of conventional truth dissipate and what is left is euphoric, cognitive pleasure, a dopamine rush of possibility. This, is the purpose of art, to the artist.
Art represents a form of individual expression that is a central pillar to any democratic society. It is a crucial safeguard to the way we live our lives. There exists many kinds of freedom of expression, but artistic expression is certainly fundamental. When investigating the history of societies, it is frequently the underground cultural producers who are at the forefront of thinking about how to oppose the establishment, often in innovative and alternative ways.
It is the forces outside of government—journalists, human rights advocates, artists—who help a society hear others, see others, and recognize claims of justice as legitimate. Art is representative of human engagement with ideas. To paraphrase Chris Stone, president of the Open Societies Foundation, who’s mission is to support socially conscious artistic endeavors, art will completely change the moment; enable action where it was feared. Art brings people together in dialogue, and through this dialogue, change can actually happen. Through the eyes of an artist, we aspire to a reality that does not exist today. We can picture it, and it allows us to move forward. This, is the purpose of art, to society.
All this being said, we should not expect any of this from art.
Art enables us to show our autonomy as individuals or as individuals who stand together. Art provides the opportunity to have the experience that we are independent human beings, with great independent, or collective, cognitive and emotional potential. We should protect art by not defining its role, by giving artists the margins they define for themselves and their own creativity.
Art fosters love. Art and artists enable and provide. Art does not owe. Art just is.