What makes art meaningful?

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Image from http://www.streetartnews.net

I’m not going to get into the age-old debate about what is or isn’t real art. That is, more than anything, a subjective appreciation, and I am not interested in subjective perceptions but rather in objective truths.

Art is, first of all, a means of expression. The artist longs to express an inner reality through an outer instrument–be it words, pictures, sounds, or something else. The intensity of the longing to express themselves is directly proportionate to the richness of the artist’s inner life. Most artists will be unhappy until this longing is satisfied. Good artists will be unhappy until their skill is perfected to the point that their art matches their inner reality almost 100%. Great artists never stop creating, because the inner itch is never satisfied, period.

For an artist to be able to express himself fully he must continuously nurture his inner life and he must also continuously refine his skill. This is what separates a true artist from a poser. That, and his reasons to create. A poser creates to please others or gain fame. An artist creates because it’s what he was born to do.

But art isn’t only a means of self-expression, because for it to have a real impact, it must also have an audience. This doesn’t mean an artist should create to please others. His responsibility is first and foremost to his vision, but art without an audience is lifeless. It’s the readers who make a book come alive, for instance. In the end, the story belongs to them. Therefore, art is second of all a means of communication.

For art to communicate effectively to an audience, it must resonate with them. It must have some common ground in an aspect of the human condition. It must be alive. Abstract art exists, but for it to be good and not just utter trash (see http://www.cbc.ca/thisisthat/mobile/touch/blog/2014/09/23/new-york-artist-creates-art-that-is-invisible/ for an example of the latter) it must emotionally resonate due to some feeling the piece brings out.

But for art to be truly meaningful, it must not only express and communicate something real, but it must also inspire. It must trascend the limitations of its form and go beyond. How this happens I don’t really know. There isn’t some magic formula for creating inspired art. But the audience knows the difference. Those stories that become more than stories, the characters that become more than ink on pages of a book, the pieces of art that find a way into our hearts and make a home there. That is true inspiration. It may come from the artist’s inner genius, or from something outside of the human psyche. I don’t really know.

I like to think inspired work is ‘blessed by the muses’, those greek mythological figures which act as guardians of everything artistic. The truth is many people can tell when something is truly inspirational and when it just pretends to be. They can feel it, even if they can’t–like me–explain it entirely.

Art that expresses an inner truth, communicates this truth effectively to an audience, and is inspired by something larger than itself is brimming over with the type of meaning that will live on in the world long after the creator itself passes away, and that is something truly rare.

What other things can you think of that makes art meaningful? Do you agree with my definition of meaningful art? Why or why not?

One thought on “What makes art meaningful?

  1. Thank you for talking about what makes art meaningful. I can see how if a piece of art inspires people to be better it can be considered meaningful. I would want to invest my money on something that can speak to my soul and inspires me to be a better person and to work harder. Thank you for sharing, I will make sure to remember this as I buy art pieces.

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