Does Art Need an Audience?

A single iris in oil pastels.

I've spent quite some time thinking about the purpose of art: why one should create art, or conversely, if there's no reason to create art at all. Is the purpose of art to move an audience? Is the purpose of art to change minds? Is art only purposeful if it makes money, thus proving itself as worthy of existing by way of ROI (return on investment)? Does art even need a purpose?

Some have said that it's controversial to say that whether something is art depends on the opinions of others; from my perusal of Google search results, this isn't the case. The majority of the English-speaking world, at least, considers art to only exist as a social contract between artist and audience. That true art cannot exist without this social bond.

Perhaps old books still hold to the notion that art for art's sake is still art. But the world moves on the internet's terms nowadays, and popular vote says that art is only art if it invokes emotion in other people. Whether or not this is caused in part by society being beset by social media doesn't matter; society always changes.

Yet... what about private diaries that a century later became public record? Though they were never intended for outside eyes, once revealed, entries were capable of moving people. Joy, sorrow, identification, empathy, sympathy, even anger and disgust: these long-ago words still have the power to burn across the hearts of an audience that was never meant to see them.

Did, then, these writings exist in a Schrödinger-like superstate of being both art and non-art until they were gazed upon by an external observer?

While light can be both a particle and a wave, art is not. If something is considered art when exposed to an observer, it must have always been art.

This is why I think that works, written or visual or aural or anything else, intended only for the audience of the artist, are still art. That these works may become dust before an external audience ever sees them is immaterial. That means there exists art that is lost in time, that can never been seen by others‑but that is not the standard by which art can be defined.

Should we weep for these lost works, even if the creators never intended them to be found?

Perhaps. But what is fame to us when we are dust? In the end, nothing truly lasts. No art is eternal, just as humanity is mortal to its core.

That's followed by the question: what is fame truly to us when we're still alive?

Human beings are complex and myriad and can rarely agree upon truly personal matters. Humans also can change on an individual basis. Thus I believe that fame is not always valuable, nor even always useful.

The art I create has a noticeable impact on me. To say that I'm "troubled" would be a vast understatement, for I have many traumas most would not even begin to understand. Yet where medication and therapy only barely held the beasts at bay, art has soothed those terrible shadows in my mind. They are not gone‑they never can be gone, and, like the Babadook, can only be lived with.

So art has purpose outside of moving others. Art has an existence outside of external audiences. And if art truly needs an audience to exist, it already always exists‑because art always has an audience, and that audience is the artist themself.

Cảm ơn. Ava