On The Purpose of Art and Theatre
By Alex Corey
I believe that the purpose of art is to convey. What is being conveyed, however can vary greatly, and whether the thing being conveyed is successful or not determines whether the piece is art. The success of the piece is also something that can be determined both by the artists themselves, or the person experiencing the work of art.
Last year I had a chance to write a thesis critiquing Tolstoy’s definition of what is art and what makes art. While that isn’t the question now, I do think it has a lot of weight in the purpose of art. Anything can be considered art to one given person, but not to another person. Theatre in its simplest form is storytelling, which is just as much a type of art as painting or photography. I believe that the purpose of art is to convey something because it takes some effort to create a piece of work. That effort has to come from somewhere.
Art can convey emotion, history, movements, and it can evoke similar reactions from the people who experience it. Even if only the artist is the one who will be seeing the completed work, a piece that is made to express an emotion can bring the artist peace after having an outlet of expression, or could push the individual to make some sort of change in their own life.
If the work of art is meant for an audience, it can convey a “thing” to a wider group of people. In the case of theatre, a show's key elements can urge audiences to speak out or start a movement about a bigger issue in society. If the piece is photography, it could be to convey another perspective, and in turn inform its audience of something that is going on elsewhere in the world. A theatre production is conveying an idea; photography a perspective. The purpose of each respective art form is to convey something, and that something can only be determined by the artist.
How the art is received is also important. If the person looking at the art isn’t picking up on what the artist means to convey, does the art fulfill its purpose? If the work is art, is it a failed piece if it doesn’t convey what the artist wants? Sometimes, an artist may not have an “end goal” in mind for what they want to convey to someone while they are writing, drawing, speaking, acting out the piece of art. Sometimes it isn’t fully known what is supposed to be conveyed, especially if the piece, in the case of theatre, is being produced when the playwright is no longer around to ask for a meaning from. Can someone else replicate a work of art and still have it meet its purpose? Or do they make a new purpose for the piece by creating it themselves?
It is hard to answer the question of “what is art’s purpose” without in some way acknowledging how difficult it is to define “art.” Just like trying to define art, what art is meant for is really based upon the artist’s intentions. I believe that when what is meant to be conveyed is expressed by the piece, and when something is received by the viewer, than that piece of art has fulfilled its purpose regardless of if the piece is received in the intended way.