When I refer to “art” here, I am referring specifically to visual art, and more specifically to painting because that’s what I do. But I’m sure it applies to other forms of art as well.
Art can have very concrete, literal meaning to it—the more representational a work of art is, the easier it is to attribute a meaning to it. Everyone understands realistic representations of things from real life—for example, paintings of trees—when looking at one, you can say, “It’s a painting of trees, and trees are lovely to look at—that’s the obvious purpose of this art; no mystery there.”
This is why purely abstract art tends to appeal to a smaller audience. It is common to want to know what you are looking at so you can place a literal meaning on it. But art, even art that is fairly straightforward in its subject matter, has a larger and deeper meaning that goes beyond the literal.
This larger and deeper meaning is not intellectual in nature—it is emotional. All you need in order to “get” art is to look at it and become fascinated, motivated, influenced, impressed, inspired, or otherwise stimulated by it. All you need is to feel a connection to the art.
Most people do feel a connection when looking at art (not all art, of course, but the art that particularly appeals to them personally.) Putting this feeling into words can sometimes be difficult, but just because you can’t always explain it in concrete terms does not mean it’s not real or important, and it does not mean you are missing anything. If you look at a piece of art and feel nothing, all it means is that particular piece of art is not meant for you. If you look at enough art, you will learn what you like and what has the most meaning for you.
The artist has the job of living, feeling, and processing her unique experience and then finding a way to express that to others. The viewer may or may not get the same feelings that the artist meant to express—and that is okay. One of the fun things about art is how different people interpret it differently. Art is the physical manifestation of a mysterious human force: imagination. If it sparks your imagination or puts you in a certain mood, then you “get it.”
And that’s nice… But how does all of this apply to real life? What is the point of art—what is its use? Well here’s where choice comes in. Once you look at enough art to realize what you like, what you connect to, you get to make the choice to surround yourself with those things that inspire you and help you in your life.
The trick is to figure out what you really, really love—when you find it you will know. If you realize that a certain shade of red makes you happy and energized, making the conscious choice to put something of that color in your living room so you see it every day will, in theory, make you a more happy and energized person. When your spirit feels heavy and sad, art can help lift you out of that. When you feel bogged down by apathy or lost in painful frustration, looking at art can bring you back to yourself and help you keep going. Deliberately creating a mood in your immediate surroundings can help you to create the life that you want, in a very tangible way.
This interpretation of art’s meaning is obviously the result of my optimistic, existential outlook on life. I try to apply my energy—mental, emotional, physical and spiritual, towards personal transformation and growth.
But art has a myriad of uses: it is used as a tool for psychological healing, a symbol in spiritual rituals, an impetus for political or social change, an expression of inquiry, a form of entertainment, evidence of status or identity, a reminder of what’s important, and most commonly, a simple celebration of beauty.
You can decide what meaning art may have in your own life. It’s up to you! So, what does art mean to you? How will you choose to use it?