Art Without Meaning – Is It Worthy of the Name?

They have been used to embellish monumental structures such as pharonic tombs, cathedrals and mosques, palaces and Parliament Houses.

Many still exist today, as examples of skilled craftsmanship but they are not Art – they are decoration.

The sciences of Archaelogy and Anthropology show us the purpose of Art. I think it can be described as having two tiers:

1. Art is the bedrock on which the human Community grows.

  • Through expression of philosophy, by way of religious art, humans in pre-historic times were able to construct the intellectual connections that we now name ethnic culture.

The earliest of all human culture is revealed to us in the cave paintings of people who lived in Australia, making art before even those who created the wall art of Altimira in Northern Spain or at Lascaux in France.

2. Art is the carrier of human Culture across communities , through time and geography.

  • To illustrate this, we need only think of what we know about all the great civilizations of Antiquity: the Mesopotamian, Minoan, Egyptian, Persian, the Greek and Phoenician empires.

We know them through their sculptures, paintings, epic poems. In rare cases, we glimpse their style of music through ancient folk-songs.

Empires of far more recent times, such as the Olmec, Mayan, Incan and Aztec civilizations of the Americas are accessible to us through their arts and the skilful artefacts of their sciences. The Britons, Franks, Flemish and many other peoples of ancient Europe are made familiar to us by their stories.

  • Told in such visual art forms as paintings, tapestries, sculpture, architecture and in music and writing, these stories resonate in the art we make today. They influence the way we order our social, religious and political systems.

Art has to evoke emotion and communicate with our fellow human beings. Who else are we to talk to – the machines? So, those of us who want to make Art need to do more than decorate. We are required to think. Art rests upon the quality of the mind that creates it.

Mind evolves with exercise of our curiosity into any and every field. The more we stretch ourselves to inquire and learn – beyond our particular field of painting, music or sculpture – the closer we come to completeness as human beings.

As artists, our purpose is always to engage our common humanity . To do this, all the arts rest upon one foundation: Story. I suggest that if you want to make art that has meaning, art that speaks to humankind, you may have no better place to start than by reading a novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

First published in the UK, in 1988, 'Bluebeard' was marketed as being '… about a man who was in on the founding of the first major art movement to originate in the United States, Abstract Expressionism.'

He acquired a large collection 'in the early days of the movement, when paintings about absolutely nothing but themselves were considered worthless .' [my italics] © Dorothy Gauvin

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