"All Art Is Useless." How far would you agree?

Posted by M ws On Friday, August 17, 2012 0 comments
I am now in the last lap of the race to prepare my college students for the forthcoming 8004 General Paper University of Cambridge International Examinations (GCE Advanced Subsidiary Level)in November. Each week, the students have had to submit an original essay based on the questions given in class which are often extracted from the list of past year questions posted in various websites. My students have to submit both the hard and soft copy so that I can check for plagiarism and also highlight errors or ways in which they have failed/succeeded in meeting the criteria for the paper. Last week, Dickson Neoh submitted the following essay which is question #15 from the May/June 2010 exam which you can refer to HERE. The target is to score in Band 1 for all the categories assessed. Dickson has certainly improved a lot and I sincerely hope that every single one of them will excel in the coming exam. You cannot imagine what they have to do for this week and the next because the trial exams begin on September 10th :-). Please leave a comment to share your thoughts/responses. Thanks!

"All Art is Useless." How far would you agree?
by Dickson Neoh

Oscar Wilde, an Irish writer, once infamously said in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray that “all art is quite useless”. His statement caused a stir and an avalanche of criticism in the productivity-oriented, industrialised London society of the late 1800s. An intrigued fan then wrote to Wilde in hope that he will explain his strange remark. He answered with a letter and in it he said that art can only create a mood and not influence one’s actions in any way. He also stated that art is ‘sterile’. He likened art to a useless flower that does nothing but simply gives only a brief moment of joy to a viewer. In some ways, what Wilde said may be true. However, only very few would agree with Wilde and ignore the importance of art in society. Personally, I cannot say art is useless as regardless of its form as art has specific roles in our lives.

Art can come in so many ways including aesthetics, design, literature, music, dance or even sports. Much of our society depends on art as a way of life. In all forms of art, it is mainly characterized to please our senses. Art is not only a representation of emotion or feelings of the artist, it also serves as a mean of communication which is indirect but profound. Famous painters such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci have all raised the level of aesthetics in our modern world with their works which highly ennobled mankind and also God. Michelangelo’s masterpiece, The Birth of Adam, or da Vinci’s The Last Supper, are also some of the most famous pieces which was gorgeously crafted to magnify the greater glory of God. In the end, art literally makes us human as we may find our inner selves through art and ultimately transcend ourselves.

Une âme au ciel, by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Art functions as a method to give tangible forms to the unknown. Art helps us to see things that we can only see through imagination. Artists have taken us to unknowns since the very beginning. For example, Une âme au ciel, by William Adolphe Bouguereau, literally translates into ‘A Soul in Heaven’.

Consider Einstein's quotation: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." Einstein emphasizes the wonders of the human mind and how it can manifest through art. It serves as our vessel to express emotion and feelings. Art is full of emotion and feelings. Many times it is created with emotion and evokes emotion. Pablo Picasso’s world famous painting, Guernica, was painted in the midst of the bombings war in Guernica to show his anger and frustrations towards the Spanish Civil War and at the same time empathy towards the victims.

Without art, we would definitely still be living in caves as much of our surroundings are products of visual art. Architecture, interior designing, decorative art are some of the products of art which creates such a luxurious environment for us to live in. Beijing’s Bird Nest, Eiffel Tower of Paris, Burj Khalifa in Dubai are examples of modern art forms incarnated into buildings and structures. Few would dispute the role of art in forming such magnificent structures in the modern world. Even ancient structures, with some built in early civilizations of man, showcases the beauty of art as well as modern buildings in their designs. Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Great Wall of China and the Colosseum of Rome still remain standing after so many centuries. Moreover, these structures also generate large amounts of income in their own respective economies through tourism which further hammers down the importance of visual arts.

Music, theatre, film and dance are also ever regarded as a form of art. It is only in a different form which is the performing arts. Performing arts are art forms in which artists use their body or voice to convey artistic expression. These arts evolved throughout generations to give us the vast field of entertainment we have today. It is needless to say of how much these performing arts affect each and every one of our lives. Most of us live and breathe music and film. Without them, it’s better off for us to be emotionless robots without the urge for enjoyment and fun. In many ways, art refreshes our vision and helps us to see the world in new ways.

Wilde’s comparison of art to a flower shows us that the latter is not merely an object which only serves as a ‘mood-changer’. The flower also acts as a reproductive vessel for a far greater purpose which is to preserve the survival of its species and thus, maintaining the balance of life. Wilde had certainly neglected this fact which also proved that he disregarded the overall importance of art. Very few can deny the impact of art on the advancement of human civilization and also in our own personal lives. In the end, art indirectly defines our way of life and also our human purposes. Most of us would have been affected by art in one way or another and undoubtedly, this shows us the wondrous power of art. For sure, our world would be a less colourful place without art and our lives a vacuum of artistic expression.

*Another student's essay has been posted HERE.

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