Recently, the perils of art have visited my thoughts often. I have noticed a dangerous trend in people concerning art. This trend seems quite large, but mostly strikes me as a widespread personal trend, and as such, seems all the more dreadful. I believe art resides as a toolbox comprised of human communication power tools. In this box rests language arts, visual arts, and the physical arts.
I've heard more than once that "the purpose of art is self expression, or just expression". I think this is a dangerous stance to take on art, and a harmful one to proselytize people with. Art is not an end, but rather a means to an end, an exercise. The exercise of art consists of communicating something unknown into the known, the unseen to the seen, unheard to the heard, and unfelt to the felt.
When people paint, write, act, or sculpt they adorn spiritual things with physical elements, baptizing the unseen in the tactile mediums. this process does not gather meaning from its mere exercise, much like confession does little if the confessor lays his deeds on the deaf ear of a stone wall. One could argue its therapeutic merits such as painting or gardening to relax, but much like the pleasant feelings which accompany charitable actions these pleasant side effects do not comprise the main goal. Much like venting ones grievances at their own reflection in a mirror such practice may offer some momentary solace, but inevitably leads to an endless repetition of such habits, never bearing such a person in the end to healing, understanding, or reconciliation.
I believe the design and creation of people by a benevolent, interested, and loving God. Along with people God designed and created the arts, and no design is arbitrary. Art has a design purpose and use. Of course free will might lead to misuse, but this alone does not negate a preeminent intention and a Godly exercise of artistic tools. Using any powerful thing outside of its intended design heralds danger. Abusing or mishandling art plagues people with a gloomy, perilous state of mind.
The creative impulse comes from the Lord; one aspect of how we reflect His image. I believe art's most profound service to people resides in its communicative capacity. The danger I now see comes from how humanity has grown to regard art's purpose, and ignore its scope of function. The purpose of art has become solely to express, a selfish use of art. Furthermore, the goodness of art is now judged on aesthetics. Songs on their beauty of sound and structure. Paintings on their form, color, and stroke. Drawings on the relationship of lines and form.
Perhaps I decide to follow these rules strictly, seeking only ever to exercise my language arts with my utmost ability and aesthetic skill; only ever speaking for self expression. I would use only beautiful words, stringing them together with rhythm and melody. I would have no care for the content or meaning, as long as it pleases the ear, as long as it entertains mentally and physically. I would be a selfish, noisy gong. And only one convinced that this was good language art could praise it.
Art facilitates intimate communication better than any other medium, creating a forum for the voices of the deep. When it becomes nothing more than fashion show it no longer performs its most meaningful function. When the end of Art is to impress instead of to communicate we neuter it, rob it of its color and potency.
This is certainly no black and white matter. However, I contend that there exists greater and lesser shades of grey concerning many subjects, including this one. Art has an appropriate use and an appropriate scale. More on this later...