Sunday, August 23, 2009

What is The Purpose of Art

This is NOT me on my bicycleDear artists of all stripes,

Recently, I commissioned a portfolio of photography. This was my first commissioning (and I'm so new to this that I don't even know if I'm using the terminology correctly), and I hoped to have my favorite photographer* collect some of the unique features of my neighborhood in Chicago. See, as I've been riding my bicycle around quite a bit this summer, I've noticed many objects that I consider art, though others might think of it as little more than a public nuisance.

Blago HeadBlago TorsoBlago FeetIn any case, I commissioned the portfolio of photography, and as I looked over the images, I began considering the reasons why people make art. What motivates the beginning of a creative work?

In the case of Ray Noland, I think the purpose is clear: to comment on the political. This, in my mind, goes along with the other commentaries (commentary on socio-cultural norms, art itself, materialism, etc). Blago Escape the CityBut here, through the spray-painted street art depicting the bad-guy-of-the-year, Rod Blagojevich, Ray has made commentary on all the corruption associated with a political figure. I can't say I disagree with his message.

Old Ukrainian GroceryOther times, I think that art is not the intention at all, even if it is the by-product. This is sometimes the case with advertising. In our neighborhood, even the lettering is often artistic to me, given that Cyrillic lettering is often used. I think of Andy Warhol's painting of the Campbell's Soup can, and how he turned an everyday brand into art. In the same way, I believe that everyday advertising is often art in its own right.

Door ArchSpiral StairsThis might go hand-in-hand with Craftsmanship-as-art, although I'd like to think that the art here is more intentional than that of advertisements. With craftsmanship, art is formed as part of the creative work of constructing something functional. Architecture largely falls into this category for me, and this is why I like the old buildings in my neighborhood much more than the concrete-brick, bland-facade that seems to be the norm in new condo construction these days. With craftsmanship, the maker creates something that is descriptive beyond the function of the piece, by adding something of himself to make the object unique.

Oh Shit! HighwayI really mean it!In a way, it is the craftsman's self-expression that creates the art. But self-expression can be so much times. Consider the various scribblings of some graffiti artist in West Town, who has managed to get his/her scrawl on many prominent locations (thankfully, without apparent gang affiliation). Why the comment, "Oh Shit!"? Is there a purpose beyond self-expression? Does there need to be a purpose beyond that?

Dripping to a watery reflectionAs I pondered the various rationales for art, it dawned on me that ultimately, art is self-expression. I cannot imagine an art form that does not in some way derive from the mind of the creator--even Jackson Pollock's random-seeming paintings are based on his choices of paint color and exist only because he chose to create them.

I think it is this self-expression that makes me enjoy art. Because, after all, how many other times do you have the chance to see someone publicly express themselves for all to see?



*My favorite photographer happens to be my wife, E. Stock. All of the photography in this post is hers, and she retains all copyrights. Please feel free to click through (ad-free Picasa photo album) and see the rest of the portfolio.

1 comment:

brd said...

Of course I love these works! The photographer gets better and better. In spite of my love of street art, I have to admit that my favorite capture is the spiral staircase, which in it's small screen form had me believing for a moment that it was street art. However, it is both a beautiful work of architecture and of photographic art.

I agree that art is self expression, but I think that these show, too, the importance of the community in relation to art. For instance, the Blagojevich works become important not just because of the expression of the artist but because of the group response. Even the repetition of the 'Oh, shit' phrase becomes more than scrawlings because it exists in a society where stress and angst in the chests of the community members seems to call for a public expression.

Thanks for the neighborhood art commission!