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100+ answers to the question, "What is the purpose of art?"

I had the thought again. It's usually a variation on, "What makes you think you're good enough to be a full-time artist? And what purpose does art serve anyway?" Since I've been listening to this voice all my life, I'm going give the commenter a name. Henceforth he shall be called "Brutus." I'm gazing out the window on the train from Prague to Paris, thinking happy thoughts about art, when Brutus attacks. "Hah! You want to be an artist? What purpose does art serve anyway?" But this time is different. Instead of meekly replying, "I don't know..." I think there must be a better answer. 

One of my art teachers in college used to ask the students to come up with one hundred solutions to a problem. Brutus constant deriding and badgering is a problem, and I want to be an artist. 

I get in Brutus' proverbial face and say, "Oh yeah? Watch this!" 

Could I come up with one hundred answers to the question "What is the purpose of art?"

I'd be happy if I got to 50. But then 50 came and went and I wondered if I might hit 75 before I ran out of answers, but no, I kept thinking of more reasons why art matters. 

Even though I thought I might be repeating myself, I persisted until I hit 100 and then I kept going.  (The following are presented to you un-edited and in the order in which they came to me.) Take that, Brutus. What's that, Brutus? Nothing to say? 

"What is the Purpose of Art?"

1. To disturb the status quo

2. To continue the dialogue of art history

3. To connect people with that which is universal

4. To speculate on or to try to predict the future

5. To reflect its time

6. To shock people into action

7. To create an emotional response

8. As an emotional outlet for the artist

9. To aggrandize the patron

10. To make money

11. To invent new visual symbols or vocabulary

12. To surprise

13. To delight

14. To inform

15. To invent new things

16. To inspire

17. Commonality of feeling or experience

18. You're not alone

19. As propaganda

20. As practice

21. Connection

22. Universality

23. To warn

24. Catharsis

25. Healing

26. Comfort

27. Joy

28. "Inside knowledge"

29. "Cool kids"

30. Inside jokes

31. To say "I was here"

32. To leave a mark

33. To worship

34. To manifest

35. To criticize

36. To poke fun at

37. To idealize

38. To normalize

39. To preserve

40. To leave a legacy

41. To create context

42. To explain

43. To mystify

44. To unsettle

45. To elevate

46. To simplify

47. To deconstruct

48. To rearrange

49. To magnify

50. To get a reaction

51. To get attention

52. To find acceptance

53. To find love

54. To scratch an itch

55. To answer a calling

56. Show respect

57. To show reverence 

58. To show humility

59. To feed the ego

60. To understand

61. To express love

62. To incite desire

63. To incite envy

64. To show off

65. To compete

66. Two excel

67. To master oneself

68. To meditate

69. To get in the zone

70. To learn to quiet the mind

71. To have fun

72. To adapt

73. To cope 

74. To grieve

75. To solve problems

76. To fail and try again

77. To test oneself

78. To test one's audience

79. To ask a question

80. To reach into the future

81. To reach into the past

82. To see more acutely

83. To listen more keenly

84. To learn to love yourself

85. To respect yourself

86. To honor yourself

89. To make people see familiar things in new ways

90. To create a dialogue with the audience

91. To explore what it means to be human

92. To give thanks

93. To show devotion

94. To be like God

95. To become more sensitive

96. To become a divining rod

97. To be decorative

98. To pare down to the essential

99. To prove them all wrong

100. To push back death

101. To become powerful

102. To create beauty

103. To create something new in the world that didn't exist before

104. To transport

105. To calm

106. To excite

107. To soothe

108. To agitate

109. To be a catalyst

110. To commiserate

111. To spark outrage

112. To heighten the viewer's senses

113. To ease suffering

114. To make people happy

115. To increase empathy

116. To strengthen oneself

117. To feel pleasure

118. To feel sensual

119. To feel accepted

120. To connect with the divine

121. To ask "what if?"

122. To commemorate

As you can see, I ended up with 122 reasons art is important. You can probably think of more. 

And Brutus has not criticized me for my new career choice even once since I made this list. 


I conceive of this an ongoing dialog, an interactive art project. Please add your reasons. That'll keep Brutus quiet. 


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