What is the purpose of art today?

What is the role of the artist today? What purpose do the arts serve nowadays?

Over the centuries, artists have had a lot of different roles. While the roles have all been different, the one constant is to transform. To create change.

The artist has been a…

Craftsman

This is the original role of the artist, to make functional things that improve the quality of life. In a way it overlaps with engineering. Photo Credit: Let Ideas Compete via Compfight cc

Decorator

A lot of people think of art as just decoration or simple creative expression. By extension that makes art an indulgence on behalf of the artist or the collector/consumer. I don’t completely agree with this, but I’ll allow it since it is not a “necessity” for “survival.” (I’ll touch on that at a later date since I believe art is more necessary than you’d think.) Photo Credit:PoshSurfside.com via Compfight cc

Propagandist

Art has always been used to promote political figures and leaders as well as the wealthy. You can use art to make certain people more appealing in the public eye. Photo Credit: x-ray delta one viaCompfight cc

Advertiser/marketer

This is an offshoot of propaganda. Art produced to sell something is propaganda for a company. Under most circumstances it is harmless as everyone has to make a living somehow, but it can easily be twisted to be disingenuous. Photo Credit: kevin dooley viaCompfight cc

Prophet

There is something sacred about creating art and looking at art, since it comes from a place that isn’t ruled by science alone. In a very real sense I think artists are shamans who see more than meets the eye and try to reveal things that plain science cannot. Photo Credit: Crysco Photography via Compfight cc

Instigator

It should be no surprise that many artists are politically active or have causes they wholeheartedly support. If art can be used as propaganda, it can certainly be used to promote personal causes or seek out justice. Photo Credit: ★ spunkinator via Compfight cc

All along, the role of the artist has been to create change and transformation.

Art makes life better, sells things, and influences the way people think about something or another person.

Seth Godin would say we are all liars.

Now, I’ve said it before: even art that comes from a place of beauty still aims to transform you: it changes your mood by eliciting feelings of awe, inspiration, and being uplifted.

Photo Credit: beautifulcataya via Compfight cc

But what is the role of the artist today?

What is the artist trying to transform right now, in the early 21st century? This is something I grapple with. Why does art exist today? Is art there to serve a documentary purpose?

Yes.

Art serves as marker of cultural achievement. It’s an indicator of society. So it should stand to reason that in many ways it is a mirror of society.

The major function of art is to show society for what it really is, even if it is unflattering. (Tweet that)

And it often is.

I’ve come to believe that the role of the arts today is to be a mirror and show society what it is. We have so much propaganda already. So many artists make a living making propaganda after all as designers and advertisers. Plenty of artists are decorators as well. Craftsmanship has its place but has largely been relegated to machines or artisans in quaint shops.

So what I see happening is the “fine” arts serving as a mirror to society.

What artists create on their own is very often a personal record of who they are and where they’ve been.

But if you extrapolate that to a societal level, or if the artist chooses to go beyond himself, you end up with social commentary. And often it is pretty discouraging.

Personally, what I want to create right now, is art that creates peace because we live in such a noisy world.

We live in a world that is so busy and distracted by cool apps. We keep score on Instagram and Facebook. We live in a world where everybody is obsessed with being right. Spend five minutes on Facebook and watch people hurl insults against each other because somebody is for or against (leader).

So maybe the purpose of art in this day and age is to be a mirror.

But I could be wrong. What do you think it is?