Is art useful or merely decorative?

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  1. #1
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    Is art useful or merely decorative?

    I'll be teaching a lesson on this in a week or so and I'm just wondering if anyone knows any interesting examples, off the top of your head. Quick example, I once saw an interview with an artist who made suicide machines.

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  3. #2
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    Hmm, depends on what you mean by "art" and "useful." All visual decisions can be considered art, and you could say that a lot of our world relies on that. So, for example, I'd say that a stop sign is an example of graphic design, therefor art, and is very useful.

    And then there are spiritual uses of art. Iconography in Christianity, statues of the Buddha used in shrines, and designs on Tarot cards. Without art you have can be confused as to who you are worshiping or what the cards are reading for your fortune.


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    when you are looking at a painting and ask yourself a question that you wouldn't have asked otherwise, isn't it useful already?

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    I'd suggest modern art from garbage; artworks made of useless trash can be seen as decorative but usually are also used to raise awareness, inspire to be "green", etc. (for example, Spanish artist Francisco de Pájaro created monsters from the trash in the streets; Chinese artist Ai Weiwei did an artwork from the cans of milk powder, if I remember correctly, among many others whose names I cannot really remember right now...).

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    To answer the question on the thread. I can't say see why art can't be both or neither for that matter. It is also a highly individual and subjective matter.

    Personally I think that public art is very important. To have flower beds, interesting or beautiful sculptures and other things that breaks the monotomy in a city can work wonders for peoples well being. A beautiful surrounding can make people proud of the place they live in and more interested in taking care of it. A place with art work that people like is much less likely to be vandalized for example.

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    Thanks everyone for the input and suggestions. Let's see, so far I've put together some images for students to compare. I want to see if they can explain, for example the differences between:

    This circle, made by this guy (Andy Goldsworthy)...

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    And this circle [photo from National Geographic], made by this Puffer fish.

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    And then, what's the difference between this sculpture, by Bernini, and this toy designed by Lego?

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    Quote Originally Posted by TASmith View Post
    Thanks everyone for the input and suggestions. Let's see, so far I've put together some images for students to compare. I want to see if they can explain, for example the differences between:

    This circle, made by this guy (Andy Goldsworthy)...
    Quote Originally Posted by TASmith View Post
    And this circle [photo from National Geographic], made by this Puffer fish.
    Well, first off, I doubt the circle made by the puffer-fish was intentional. It is certainly interesting, but I'm guessing it was created from the nature of the water jetting out and hitting the silt on the sea-floor when it deflated or something like that; though I'd need to read more to be certain.

    The other is intentionally man made, and half of it is illusion; intentionally created by use of the the water's reflection.

    Both may end up with a similar result, but intent makes a huge difference.

    Quote Originally Posted by TASmith View Post
    And then, what's the difference between this sculpture, by Bernini, and this toy designed by Lego?
    As someone who has worked on a game for Lego, this is in interesting one. Both are representations of man, of course. One is meant to be immovable; a fixed piece of art and a piece which is intended to exist by itself as art.

    The other, despite its apparent simplicity, is deceptively complex. Its first purpose is as a toy, something to be enjoyed and played with; the word "Lego" itself comes from the Danish words for "play" and "well/good" (which is why the studio in Colorado creating their game was briefly called "Play Well Studios.") Now, that play takes multiple forms, including imagination, building, exploration, and of course destructiveness. The toys have become icons, and the style guides that we had to work from had so many rules about how the product was and wasn't allowed to be displayed or used that it was at times impossible to create art for the game without getting the company to allow some changes to those rules. (for example, they wanted the word "LEGO" to be modeled into the geometry on the top of every knob; not doable in a real-time game.)

    I could go on and on about Lego, but that's what I have for now.

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    I didn't respond before because I liked Peter's comments about the street signs.

    Re Goldsworthy versus the pufferfish, the process of reduction shows that neither is useful. Either they are decorative or else there is a third choice (e.g. "Everything by Goldsworthy is either an S curve or is radially symmetrical," or in the case of the pufferfish= "If I can puff a cool design in the sand maybe I can get laid." Come to think of it, I guess these are both useful in either getting paid or getting laid. Never mind.)

    I guess the statue is "gettin' laid" while the lego one is "gettin' paid." Sorry about that last part Peter, but you know how it is. Maybe if the lego creature went out and got some, er, cosmetic procedures.

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    Art is often used as a communication tool. See the stop sign example above, graphic design, fine arts as a critique, etc. That's useful.

    Art is used to decorate a space with the intentions and result of manipulating people within it -- for example, restaurants are often decorated with the express intent to make people eat more using colour psychology. And we all know how stressed out people tend to feel in ugly environments, how hard it is for someone to relax in a badly-maintained, clinical waiting room, and how you can use art and design to change that so that people feel more at home. That's useful.

    Imagine a world without art and it'd fall apart pretty quickly. Even machine made objects are partially, in a way, art, because they were designed to be aesthetically pleasing in order to entice consumers into buying them. That's useful.

    Even the worst examples of modern abstract art have their own uses. Use isn't restricted to physical tools like hammers. Use can be influencing someone or the way they think, whether it's using calming imagery to make them relax or drawing a comic as social commentary.

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  13. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by arttorney View Post
    Sorry about that last part Peter, but you know how it is. Maybe if the lego creature went out and got some, er, cosmetic procedures.
    Well, on the one hand it is a toy meant for children, and a bit more appropriate for children than some other toys on the market...

    On the other hand, I'll have you know that at a game company with unlimited access to every Lego block we found just about every way we could to be politically incorrect with the things. Most of what I built was more on the front of war scenes that Lego would not approve of, but one of the other concept artists built a Lego strip club. Believe me when I say that those little plastic men were getting all the sexual attention they could possibly want. I don't have any pics of the strip club, but I might have a few pics somewhere of some of the stuff I built; will have to dig them up...

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