I agree with Beth (her message below). Many people, even art majors, have
not thought about the purposes of art in our lives and in society. I ask
high school and college art students, "What is the purpose of art?" They
generally say, "To express yourself." Of course this is a correct, but
only partial answer.
Here is a list of REASONS FOR ART. Many are edited from Chapter 1 in the
Herberholz book: Artworks for Elementary Teachers. Feel free to copy and
edit this to a poster format the for the artroom. I thought of a few
examples in the parenthesis.
1. A reason for art is to tell stories, events, myths, beliefs, and
2. A reason for art is to convince, inform, inspire, criticize, persuade,
make the world a better place (Guernica by Picasso - Faith Ringgold).
3. A reason for art is to perform rituals, work magic, pray for protection,
pray of success, for fertility, for cures for sickness, for prosperity,
etc (tribal fetish art - modern advertising).
4. A reason for art is to enhance a religious ceremony (stained glass in
Gothic church - tile of Mosque).
5. A reason for art is to help in meditation as in the contemplation of
6. A reason for art is to create personal and group identity, inspire
school, cultural, and/or national identity, loyalty, and spirit (flags,
7. A reason for art is to tell how people, used to look and behave.
8. A reason for art is to tell us how places and things used to look.
9. A reason for art is to tell us how an artist feels about the subject of
artwork (DeKooning - Wyeth).
10. A reason for art is to tell us the ways artists have found to express
their creativity, and ways to interpret and represent what they have seen,
imagined, remembered and felt (Bearden).
11. A reason for art is to a way to interpret our own emotions and
understand ourselves better (Pollack - Frankenthaler).
12. A reason for art is to express and see dreams and fantasies (Mary Frank
13. A reason for art is to reveal pure visual pleasure from the impact of
color, shape, line, and other elements.
14. A reason for art is to design and create the tools, utensils, and other
functional objects needed.
15. A reason for art is to embellish, decorate, and enrich objects and our
16. A reason for art is to symbolize or substitute for a real idea or object.
17. A reason for art is memorialize or pay tribute to a person, persons, or
event (Maya Lin)
18. A reason for art is provide therapy that helps the creator and/or the
viewer better understand a problem and solution.
19. A reason for art is to help us pre visualize ideas for buildings,
bridges, cities, and everything else that is imagined before it is made
(Frank Gehry - Frank Lloyd Wright).
20. A reason for art is to add humor to our lives (James Melchert).
21. A reason for art is to create gifts that show love and other feelings
to our friends and family (flowers and cards are commonly used this way).
22. A reason for art is to do pure visual research into the effects of
color, line, and other elements as well as materials and processes (Joseph
My SOAPBOX speech.
The above are all fine reasons to study how art works. But, there is a
more important reason I would want to understand art and be visually
literate. It is so that politicians, zealots, bigots, and advertisers
cannot use art against the best interests of society to their own
advantage. Every dictator wants to censor art for this reason.
Advertisers want to use the arts to convince me to spend my time and
resources in ways that make me poor and them wealthy. If I fail to see and
understand their methods and motives, I am bound to become a slave. Having
a literate population, both verbally and visually, may be the only thing
between slavery and freedom with liberty for all.
What if we included some clarification and discussion of the purposes,
ethics, and responsibility of artists and students of art in connection
with every assignment we present? Would our students still wonder why art
is needed? They might soon be telling each other what art is for.
At 08:55 AM 10/23/02 EDT, you wrote:
>Call me crazy but after a few years of this occasional question with my
>secondary students I began to see it as a real question and developed a unit
>on 'Why art?' I decided it is only part complaining and the other part a
>question about art's values.