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The Purpose of Art

art = life , art, life, artist

For me art has always meant a total freedom of expression. It has allowed me to question the world around me through a variety of mediums, to explore concepts and communicate cultural intricacies.


On a more primitive, tactile level, I feel drawn to experimenting with different methods of mark making through a variety of mediums. It makes me feel physically connected and able to challenge the environment around me. If I weren’t making art and involving myself in the level of creative thinking I currently do on a daily basis, I think I would feel like a passive bystander in society. Art makes me constantly evolve both in my mind and physically in my ability to manipulate the materials I use. I believe that artists are led by curiosity and an intrigue in the world around them that triggers a constant need to challenge and experiment with their perceived reality.

The act of viewing art and discussing art with friends and peers, gives me an opportunity to pause in my day-to-day life and consider other issues and ideas in the world. It keeps me more engaged in politics and social issues. Especially if my work is on display I feel I have opened a visual line of communication to the public and outside world.

Historical Role of Art

Looking back across different cultures, often it’s the artists, playwrights and musicians that are the ones that documented societal changes and feed our imaginations of how ancient civilizations, and more recent cultures and societies operated. Sometimes it is not understood why a figurine, wall painting or a decorative pot was created or valued, but the fact that they were and still are, shows that throughout history, the importance and value of art is difficult to comprehend, it has always been very elusive.


Before writing was invented storytelling, imagery and interpretation was relied upon to pass important messages on: historical events, dangers and risks, the story of the stars, acts of heroism and moral judgements. When languages are lost, visual interpretations and documentation often provide the only access to ancient knowledge and ways of thinking.


Art has had a huge impact on humanity. Here are some examples of when art really changed and challenged our understanding of the world and our position within it:

Studies of the Fetus in the Womb, by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1510

Studies of the Fetus in the Womb, by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1510

Through his anatomical drawings taken from real-life dissections, Leonardo da Vinci informed both artists and scientists on the mechanisms of the human body.

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Probably the most famous anti-war artwork is that of Guernica by Picasso. The painting depicts the bombing of the Basque town of the same name, an attack ordered by Franco's regime and delivered by the Nazis in conjunction with Italian Fascists.

Rhythm 0 by Marina Abramovic

Rhythm 0 by Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic was one of the early innovators of feminist performance art. In her performance Rhythm 0, she invited spectators to do whatever they wanted to her over a period of six hours with 72 objects laid out on a table. At first people were kind and polite, but as time passed, the normal boundaries of social behavior blurred and people began to cut off her clothes and cause more harmful and worrisome gestures. Towards the end spectators intervened to protect her and the gallerist stopped the performance. It offered a fascinating reflection of objectification, control, and power within society.

What Does Contemporary Art Offer Society?

The role of contemporary art is often to engage socially and politically within society. It can challenge the status quo, influence public opinion, expose accepted ‘knowns’ and provide alternatives to standardized views. It is inspired by our societal construct, of our civilization, and the complexities that interweave and hold it together.    


Important topics that are often explored through contemporary art include:

- Capitalism

- Migration

- Democracy

- Civil and human rights

- The state of the environment

- Stereotypes

- The economy

- Family, community and relationship dynamics

- Identity

Do Artists Have a Duty to Society?

When people ask me: “Can art not just be admired for its beauty?”, “Can we not just enjoy it?”, “Does it have to DO anything?” My opinion is always that art by its nature, is not duty bound. It is the ultimate mark of an individual's exploration of freedom. Although it can just be admired for its beauty, art used as a powerful tool to feed the imagination and make suggestions about how things could be is much more exciting. Art for me is the heartbeat and conscience of society.

What do you think the purpose of art is? This is a discussion I love to have so please leave comments below and let's open the doors to debate.

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