Art as Expression

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.

2 thoughts on “Art as Expression

  1. Kastel says:

    There is an “intrinsic value” to the artist when they create something even if it is meaningless. That, I grant. There is a reason why diary writing is still a popular activity.

    But I also ask, “Can a thing kept in the cupboard be part of the world?” Meaning, as you have observed, has little connection to value. We frequently do trivial things in the scope of the world. Indeed, our existence is only numero uno in the form of statistics. It is impossible to think that we are part of one giant system. That’s why we have difficulty believing in a Creator because the design of the world doesn’t look quite intelligent.

    Any activity is futile if we look at it with only meaning in mind. That’s why we instill ourselves values. Values we actually admit are subjective and meaningless. You can say the whole search for values is what existentialism is all about.

    But we are going to force ourselves to become nihilists when we realize how valueless our lives are. That’s why we need meaning. Sharing our thoughts is one of the ways to make something meaningful because we have someone else to talk to. I believe that’s why social media is so successful because people are gaining recognition from what they are doing. Activism exists because we go from believing in moral values to exercising them so we can make them mean something.

    I think there is a time and place to think of values in the context of meaning. But the end-all goal will forever be meaning. We like to talk about expression, but who are we expressing to if nobody is around? There’s no reason to express except to ourselves. And I don’t think we are writing diaries to create meaning or value.

    We write them because meaningful stuff happen around us.


    • shadowplasm says:

      Sorry it took me so long to get around to replying to this, I wanted to give it a decent amount of thought and have been swamped by uni work.

      I think it’s partially my own fault for not exploring meaning enough in the original post but I’d like to expand on exactly how I view meaning. Besides looking at meaning and function (which is basically usefulness), there’s also meaning in the abstract and meaning in the concrete.

      Meaning in the abstract is in the grander sense, in the totality of existence, and with the lack of access to any potential absolutes, meaning in abstract is a futility and, as you rightly pointed out, is something we can’t properly conceive of.

      Meaning in the concrete, that is in our everyday existence, I would posit is something we can have access to. We can derive meaning from our interactions with others, the values we hold, the exercising of our will alongside a multitude of other subjective and limited experiences. Values in this sense aren’t meaningless because they give us a lens with which to view our concrete existence is a meaningful way.

      To answer your point about something being locked in a cupboard can be meaningful, I would suggest that yes it can be. Whilst interaction is a measure of concrete meaning, in this case we’re talking about a piece of art which has a creator. If the creation of the art is a meaningful concrete experience for the creator then it inherently has meaning associated with it. Whilst this meaning is locked in the act of creation, the piece of art is ultimately meaningful because it went through that process.

      This does however come down to issues of intention within the creation of art. If I make a piece of art with the pure intent of sharing it then it’s meaning in the concrete is derived from others interaction with it. However if I create art with the intent of creating the art for myself in some manner meaning can be derived from it in the concrete of my own experience.

      To my mind one the very reason we create diaries is to imbue our experiences with a sense of meaning to ourselves. This is not to suggest that we don’t wish to record our meaningful experiences, rather the recording of something is meaningful to us by itself. Expression of ourselves is one of the ways in which we create a sense of concrete meaning when abstract meaning is shut off to us.


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