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The Multiple Purposes of Art

“Art for Art’s sake”, insisted the French poet Théophile Gautier in the early 19th century. This is an attractive notion, but is it that simple? While the notion of art as a purposeless activity is widely accepted, there will always seem to be, explicitly or implicitly, a certain purpose or goal to an art work. Literature, cinema, photography, fine art, music--all of these mediums are seemingly ends in themselves but also means. They are teachers, counsellors, shamans, tools of self-discovery and remedies for the tumultuous happenings of our lives. Art is unequivocally intrinsic in its value, but it has an undeniable extrinsic purpose for the living individual.

In all of its beauty, art keeps us hopeful. It counsels us in our moments of pain and downs and allows us to have a more joyful vision of life. Life may be at the moment harsh, difficult, hopeless and painful, however a simple melody from the Beatles or a short scene from a Hayao Miyazaki anime can reassure and comfort us in our daily struggles. Life, with all of its downsides, is worth living. Art makes us accept the human condition by making us see, through its medium, the bigger picture of life, the necessary emotional waves of human existence.

Art is a guide to life, exposing the kaleidoscope of paths before us. Our teachers and parents can give us useful advice and guidance, nevertheless it will not answer our most essential questions, our profoundest and most fundamental need : the knowledge of how to truly live. In this sense, art has the power to convey to the individual the life worth living. Marcel Proust will show you by his deep analysis of small details. In his novel ‘The Search of Lost Time’ he conveys that what counts in life is the appreciation of trivial doings such as eating a “madeleine”-- the smallest details become a benediction. ‘Paint in Black’ by the rolling stones will assure you that the only true life is the life of the rebellious, of the one who has freed himself from culture’s constraints.

Art reconnects the individual to the universe’s magic, it makes him wonder.

The monotonous routine of everyday living may make one look at existence with filters of grey and a sense of purposelessness. Art arrives as one’s regular moral remedy, by reconnecting us to the musicality of things, to the beauty of everyday living. A Dadaist photographer like Man Ray reminds us of the beauty of the illogical. While ‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa’ by Hokusai throws at us the grandeur to be found in a landscape and nature.

A lot of ink has flowed on the subject of art and its purpose. Many philosophers tried to make sense of this strange human phenomena, why do we create it and why do we consume it?

According to Aristotle, art has a function of Catharsis, it allows us to exteriorise and let go of our baggage of emotions. Our negative and repressed emotions can, thanks to the power of art, be evacuated : through tears if it has to, through laughter or through a simple smile. For Kant, art is more an extension of philosophy, showing us reality along the sciences. This idea is taken further by his German counterpart Hegel : for him, ‘art is the sensuous representation of ideas’.

‘Art exists so that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar” - Viktor Shklovsky

What is the purpose of art according to artists themselves? For Dickens, art can denounce and expose the world’s problems. He therefore uses art as a mean to denounce extreme poverty and inequality, poor politics, human greed, human violence… For James Joyce, on the other hand, it is more a matter of showing others that little things in life are not so little. His novels try to depict the grandeur of everyday life. Another example is Tolstoy, where art has an educational purpose. Art should have according to him the mission to replace lower feelings with higher ones.

Purpose in art is to be found on the side of the artist himself, who, by creating, is transcended by a great energy and aliveness. ‘Engaged in the creative process, we feel more alive than ever, because we are making something and not merely consuming, masters of the small reality we create’ said Robert Greene. The process itself of creating is ecstatic.

In this month of august, fellow students, intoxicate yourself. Not only of alcohol and other substances, but also of art. Yes, art. Consume art, create art, be excessive about it. You never know what you will take out of it.

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