“art brings us back to a space for true discourse and deliberation…”
I recently read an interesting article by Shekky Esaak, Thoughtco.com entitled the Function of Art. Esaak says, “…the functions of art normally fall into three categories. These are personal, social or physical functions. The physical functions of art are often the most easy to understand. Works of art that are created to perform some service have physical functions. Art has a social function when it addresses aspects of (collective) life, as opposed to one person’s point of view or experience. The personal functions of art are often the most difficult to explain. There are many types of personal function, and they are subjective and will, therefore, vary from person to person. In sum, try to remember four points when required to describe “the functions of art”: (1) context and (2) personal, (3) social and (4) physical functions.” Interesting.
Her reference to social function includes the political messaging, a call to action or to raise awareness on compelling issues facing a community or country for that matter. For instance, the underground movements against apartheid developed graphic posters in South Africa from the 1960’s until the racist regime was toppled. However, it can also be used positively to turn negative perceptions around about a person, place or item. This is usually seen through tourism campaigns that present beautiful images that can change one’s established view. She also distinguished physical functions cirting the following example of “A Japanese raku bowl (which) is art that performs a physical function in the tea ceremony. Conversely, a fur-covered teacup from the Dada movement has no physical function.”
The personal function of art is the one that most people; regardless of age, socio-economic status or other circumstance, can relate to, consciously. No matter what motivates an artist to create, viewers will receive and perceive the visual information based on their own experience and conditions. This could be inspired by the primary colors used in the work, the content of the creation or the setting, be it city scape, landscape or a dark room. It can also be influenced by the story of the artist and their struggles, triumphs and more. Under the category of personal function of art, we will always derive our own conclusions, and that is fine. However, it is also the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between the viewer and the artwork that will extend to others in the viewers’ social circle as it will more than likely find its way from our eyes to mind to lips as we share our observation, concern and the impact of the piece with others. The other interesting personal use I have identified may also be social. Some buyers use art to indicate their social status which is also personal, in my eyes. In this case, there is something that the individual or organization needs to satisfy their desire to shape how society sees or places them. Again, this is relevant to both the person and institutional with one prime example being the USA Art in Embassies Program.
All things considered, this is an important discussion, as we usually think of art as the artists’ expression or interpretation of a particular topic, not realizing that once we interact with the piece, we become part of the narrative. Notwithstanding abstract art, usually for a more seasoned eye that has more information and exposure, considering the caveat that understanding the piece does not deter a viewer or buyer who just loves it for whatever reason beyond the intellectual analysis. It is personal., Like it love it hate it find no use for it…art makes you think and in a time of cut and paste it is refreshing to have something that forces us to analyze; bringing us back to a space for true discourse and deliberation on the function of art and beyond.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora