- Reminds us we are going to die
- Keeps us interested in living
- Breaks us open
- Gives hope
- Comforts the afflicted
- Can help us to shut the fuck up for a blesséd moment
- Afflicts the comfortable
- Makes us human*
- Magnifies the greater glory of God†
- Joins the long conversation
- Engenders reasonless gratitude
- Offers the means to become other people
- Demonstrates unprovable truth.
I have been noodling on this list for years, mostly because I like to have reasons handy when I teach playwriting. (An investigation of the uses of playwriting would open a whole other can of worms.) I have arranged these in a loose, ostensibly amusing order of my own choosing. I would be truly delighted to hear suggestions for additions, adjustments and deletions.
Over the last century or so we have tended to shy away from objectivity in the arts and have emphatically discarded any objective means of defining exactly what art is. “It can’t be done,” we shrug; or we toss down the glib gauntlet, “Art is whatever I say it is”, knowing full well that if that were true, then art would be, by extension, whatever anyone says it is, and by further extension, simply everything. And when something is “everything”, it achieves equivalence to “nothing.” Or perhaps even less than that.
So I would like to suggest that art might only be objectively defined in the context of its utility. Or in plainer words, in order to know what art is, we have to talk about—and maybe can only talk about— what art does.
I understand I have no special standing to proffer such a list. I quit college after my sophomore year. My plays are only rarely and mostly marginally produced. I am an administrative coordinator at a biotech company, a husband, a father and a person. That last post is the only one I believe entitles me to talk about art; but I stand fiercely by that standing, because, after all, if art is not for persons, then for whom is it?
My plan over the next few months, or—let’s be honest—years, is to write a short essay about every one of the uses I listed above, and maybe even some I have not yet thought of— maybe some that you suggest. Please be warned, however, that my track record for delivering on promised essays is spotty at best.
*Not always a good thing.
†Even if there isn’t One.
5/28/14 To see my more recent essay, "The Misuses of Art", please click here.