You Complete Me: What is the Purpose of Art? (Answered in 500 Easy Words)

Gone are the days when I could ruminate about the whys and hows of my art.

It’s not that I lack the interest or even the tolerance (although I do certainly lack the time) or that I can’t navel-gaze with the best of them, but at some point along the way, the need to preoccupy myself with the engines driving my writing decreased from an incessant, back-firing clatter to a just audible background thrum.

So I was jolted into once again considering the topic when I listened to this interview with sculptor Dario Robleto, and the conversation turned to a question that Robleto continues to ask himself:

Can art finish something that’s never been finished?

As discussed in a previous post, we’re all familiar with (if not bored by) the trope of the artist as damaged human who turns to creating as a means to heal, as a means to salve some emotional wound or to deal with some mental dysfunction. The trope exists not only because of the attractive and convenient narrative, but also because of its inherent truth. Yes, most of us wanderers are wandering because we were at some point in our lives unmoored. Most (maybe all) eventually thrive from embracing this otherness that we perceive separates us from a ‘normal’ existence that everyone else appears to be living.

But if we can take the artist and his/her origin story out of the art object and do our best to consider the art by itself (yeah, yeah, I agree it’s nearly impossible but give it a shot, anyway) we are left with considering the purpose of that piece of art. Not the why but the what.

You drew that picture. You wrote that book. You composed that piece of music. Ignoring why and how you did it, what is that picture, book, music supposed to do?

For my part, I default to the same setting that I suspect most of us are switched to: I cogitate about and put more emphasis on the process rather than the product (art for art’s sake, man). In fact, I bet if I surveyed my own damned blog, I’d find in the often overlapping topics I tend to discuss—writing, spiritual wandering, parenting—more about the doing and less about the having done.

So, again, Robleto’s question.

Can art finish something that’s never been finished?

Is the answer to that question—dare we postulate—the purpose of art? Is the creative journey less about self-actualizing and more about impacting the world around us? Is the artist’s role, then, to discover the broken places outside of ourselves and bring wholeness and completion?

If so, our jobs just got a lot more complicated.