This post was inspired by the following piece, please give it a read because it’s a really nice look at viewing art in a holistic manner
Preface: I would just like to say that there is a distinction here between meaning and value, meaning is tied to function; so, for example a book’s function is to be read thus without anyone to read it, it is meaningless. However, value is distinct from the function of the object so something can be meaningless whilst still having value (though not being able to fulfil its function does impact its value, it’s just not the only measure of value).
“A book is meaningless without a reader” is an interesting phrase to me, one that can seem agreeable on surface given how we often approach art. What’s the purpose of art if it isn’t being appreciated? However, I feel this is an inherently reductive phrase that is quite insulting to the piece of art in and of itself. More so than that it is disparaging to the artist themselves to suggest that their work is only of value if someone is there to observe and appreciate it. A piece of art is a piece of its creator brought into the world, whether it’s for all to view or none, it is of them, it is a part of their existence and a record of them. To dismiss something of such value because someone other than the artist has not encountered it is ludicrous to my mind. This is not to suggest that there isn’t value in the sharing of art, the influence it can have on others is one of its greatest treasures after all, but to reduce it to merely a vehicle for that influence is a grave mistake.
Creation is, indubitably, an expression of the creator; art is the creator wrought into their creation, and by extension into the world around them. When one creates, we are forging something of ourselves into that creation, this is even more apparent when it comes to a such a personal subject as art. Given this unavoidable link between the creator and their creation one must accept, if they believe in the inherent value of a person, that the creation has a similar value; after all it is of the artist. If we are to dismiss an inherent value in art that has been produced, we are also limiting the idea of the creator having value because the creation of art is an extension and expression of the artist themselves. So, to suggest that the only value to be found in art is through the sharing and subsequent appreciation of the art goes against this fundamental principle and devalues not only the art itself but also the artist themselves.
As previously mentioned this is not to suggest that the sharing of art does not have value, in fact I would say that it gives even more value to the sharing of art. Not only are you getting an intimate glimpse into another person’s world you are also participating in the art itself. To expand on this idea, we have already concluded that art is an expression of the creator, however what we have not touched on is whether the appreciation of art is limited only to an impression of art. When we have an impression of art we are inevitably going to paint it in the colours of our own experience and understanding; our impression of art is always going to be an expression of ourselves. From that moment, onward we carry that piece of art within ourselves in its own unique form.
So, when one is involved in the appreciation of art we are not adding value to the piece itself, rather we are creating our own version of the piece that is personal to us. The reason that these impressions of art are a greater expression of ourselves than more base experiences is the intimacy held within art. Art is the expression of someone else and a fundamental part of their person is on display, this leaves us far more connected to it than in other more mundane cases. Not only that but because it is a creation from another human it becomes something we can connect to on a personal level rather than appreciating purely for its form. However, this added value of sharing does not detract from the original point, the art in and of itself does have a value.