Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Purpose of Art.

What is the purpose of art?

Simple question with potentially unlimited answers. Not exactly light subject matter. I saw a less-than-stellar film a couple months ago that's increasingly stayed with me since I watched it that bravely addressed this question. By stayed with me I don't mean "it grew on me," a common phrase associated with movies that don't seem so great the first time around but get better with each view. No, instead this is a movie that has stayed with me because of its message. That movie was I'm Not There, about the many dimensions of the life of Bob Dylan. Cate Blanchett is great as Bob Dylan (photo left), but for the most part, it's really not that good a movie. Great concept. Failed execution.

But it was brave of them to tackle the issue: What is the purpose of art?

Dylan's transition to electric guitar came with much controversy and without much fanfare at first. Dylan though, did not care. He had made a decision; a realization, really. Dylan's art, as big a deal as it was, and as crowd-pleasing as it had become, was not leading to change. Dylan was on top of the world in the 1960's as the most prominent, if not the very best ever, singer-songwriter of his time. He was known for one special thing above all else: writing incredibly compelling protest songs. But Dylan made a realization that writing protest songs for the masses was a futile forum for creating change. Dylan took it further: he believed that all art was incapable of making social change. Dylan's role in the universe suddenly became much less important, at least how he saw it. Artists were meaningless when it came to influencing the world.

What then is the purpose of art? Is it solely for entertainment? Is art about self-exploration and expression? Or was Dylan wrong. What effects does art have on the world? What I'm Not There attempts to say is that Dylan believes art is about self-expression. The only purpose of true art is expressing ones-self - that an artist only creates for ones self and that if other people appreciate it then that is their business. In this light, Dylan sees every individual as an artist, every occupation and type of person has a form of self-expression. And also in this light, Dylan no longer wanted to see himself as an artist, or in other words, as someone incapable of creating social change. But he was an artist, and after careful consideration, saw his art - rock music - as a way to express his views rather than as a tool for change.

I offer this post as a forum for discussion, and I look forward to hearing people's interpretations.


Jason Heat said...

I'm not sure that art has to only have one purpose.

Max Nova said...

I really liked the film and I'm not a Dylan fan at all. Here's a question, or 4, is the new AC/DC art? Chinese democracy? What about commercial art? What about sports writing? What about blogging?

Jason Heat said...

And how much of art comes from intention vs. product or interpretation?

David Pratt said...

Chinese Democracy is self-expression. And that expression is "Axl Rose is a dick."

Daniel said...

highly recommend this movie.

Adam Z. Winer said...

I guess what Dylan was getting at is not so much about the definition of what art IS.. but why do artists create art?

Does that make sense?

Like, it's not even about whether or not Axl Rose creates art, but rather why the 'artist' Axl Rose creates the 'art' that he does. Which as Pratt pointed out, is to express being a dick.