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The Column icon The Column: Issue 27

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

The Purpose of Art
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

In general I tend to steer away from using the term 'art' or 'artist' in favour of 'creative', and 'creative product'. The very word 'art' brings with it the baggage of preconception, prejudice, and intellectual snobbery. That said, next to my love of people, comes my love of art :)

Setting the Scene

In writing this column I was tempted to make reference to others who had pondered on the purpose of art. This however goes against my general aim which is to make what I write as accessible as possible. I hope anyone reading my words can follow my train of thought without the need to know of certain authors, or ideas, or of arguments that have come before. This to me seems to to be the most democratic and inclusive approach, and both those principles lie at the heart of my creative work.

My aim, and the kind of art I like best, is when something complex is communicated simply. Most often I come nowhere close...

Defining Art

The definition of 'art' that is most meaningful to me:

Art: The products of human creative activity which often hold special significance.

Some would argue that all creative human endeavors, excluding actions directly related to survival and reproduction, is art of one kind or another. I however view this as too broad a definition. We are all creative, but we do not all produce art.

Each day, we create new combinations of words in our need to connect our world with others. The sentences we utter are often creative in as much as they are responding to a particular person, group, or context in a new(ish) way, but they do not constitute art in my opinion.

We don't in general tread the exact same paths as we speak and act in the world, and the more we move away from our comfortable surroundings of habit and repetition, the more we become explorers on our journey of realizing our creative potential.

The Need for Art

I believe the production of good art requires right effort (perhaps a theme that demands a column of its own), talent, and persistence. Talent being the most over-rated of these three. Art, like anything of value, requires effort to unlock its gifts. The more we put in, the more we get out.

There seem three core motivations for producing art. Our need to:

assert our ego or leave some stamp of ourselves on the world
produce something that motivates, affects, or enriches others

There seem three entirely different reasons why people value art:

art transcends the ordinary and inspires
art transforms us and can easily make us feel as much a general of a great army, as a child in jeopardy
art touches on all the qualities that lay between great beauty and ugliness

Art delights the senses and invites us to experience our most cherished hopes, and most fearful dreams. All at a distance, and without risk. Art, like dreaming, is a vital human activity that helps us understand and play out our place in the world. By so doing, we survive better.

Literature and Music

Literature and music lay at either ends of the spectrum we call art. Literature requires grammar and a shared lexicon to function. Music requires a willingness to listen and no more. Literature's constant companion is meaning. In contrast, music has no meaning, it is simply organized sound. Music may support a text with meaning, like film music, but of itself, it is an abstract, beautiful art.

Contemplating the purpose of literature is very different to that of thinking about the purpose of music. Literature connects because it speaks eloquently and directly to us. It is political in nature because it carries meaning. Music, in contrast, stirs the heart and stimulates the mind with sound patterns, form, and structure.

The visual arts and dance seem to come someway between the two.

Mirrors and Light

Considering the purpose of art is constructive if somewhat perplexing. The more we think carefully about our chosen medium of expression, the more we become capable of exploiting its power and potential.

By uncovering the nature of art and the reasons we have developed certain abilities to produce art, we come to know ourselves better and understand others more. For me, the purpose of creating art is clear: I create to connect, art connects...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also a Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company producing award winning backup solutions.

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