Humans are exceptional in that we create art. No other creature on earth seeks to convey that intangible abyss of the mind into a material form. Artists turn thoughts, ideas, feelings, impulses, desires, and inspirations into tangible constructs that can be shared. Why is this important? Why do we need to create? Why do we feel that the world, an incredible miracle of existence, needs anything more? That our abstract concepts need manifestation, or that realities already in existence need to be reproduced in an alternate form like a painting or a photograph?
I am a Taoist. My view of the world is in opposites. Yin and Yang. When it comes to art, I see these opposing forces play in the way we engage with art, and in the way we experience art.
Engagement. Action. Yang.
Experience. Passive. Yin.
Engaging with art further breaks down into two opposites: the creator, and the observer. Both have a very different purpose. For the creator there is a need to express, to convey, to form, to shape, to do. Action. Yang. For the observer there is a need to see, to feel, to touch, to listen, to experience. Passive. Yin.
Experiencing art, predictably, also breaks down into Yin and Yang. The participant and the nonparticipant. There are those of us, the participants, who actively seek to engage with art. To create or to observe. We are driven to express ourselves, or we are interested in being exposed to how others express themselves. We engage in the creator/observer dynamic willingly. Then there are those who don't; the nonparticipants. They feel no need to express themselves creatively, nor have any interest in seeing how others have expressed themselves within a given art form.
Now it is impossible for anything to be wholly yin or yang. They are two halves of a whole. One can not exist without the other. In regards to art we are all creators/observers, participants/nonparticipants. What we are depends on the art.
For example, if I paint and enjoy seeing others' paintings, then I am obviously a creator/participant. But, if I don't like Jazz and don't listen to it, then I am a nonparticipant. Choosing simply to not engage as either creator or observer. This is a rejection of a form, but not of music, nor of art. My dislike for Jazz does not make Dizzy Gillespie any less of a great Jazz musician.
So, despite how some people may extol their lack of need for art they are often only expressing a disengagement with the fine arts or of art forms they cannot relate to or do not enjoy. It is rare to find a human who does not like some form of music (even those who cannot hear may feel beats and rhythm), or is averse to seeing or listening to performance art like films or stories. Complete art abstinence does not exist.
In this context, the purpose of art depends on your relationship to the art form. How we engage and experience art, no matter the medium or level of participation. Each interaction is wholly unique. A complex relationship between the individual and the artwork. No matter if it is the hard thumping bass of a house mix on a dance floor or the quiet contemplation of a sumi ink drawing. There is no right or wrong way to experience art. Only that we do. In whatever form that moment in time presents. Our response to the same work may change, evolve. We stop loving a song. We start liking that aggressive red mural at the office. Art brings balance to our existence by becoming what we need when we need it. If our minds are cluttered and anxious the stillness of an art museum filled with the solid heavy forms of stone sculptures can bring peace. Grounding us. Calming the internal noise. Conversely, if we feel bored, stuck in routine, uninspired then buying that electric yellow abstract print to hang in the hallway can be invigorating. A source of energy that is lacking.
As artists, artisans, creators, we need to understand these forces and use them to inform our practice and guide our thoughts about ourselves, our art, and our purpose. We need to understand not only what the act of creating brings to our own lives, but that there will be an infinite number of possible responses to our art by the observers. Those responses have absolutely nothing to do with talent, or effort, or medium. The rejection of a work is not a rejection of the artist or the piece. Responses to art, whether positive or negative, are merely a reflection of an observer's needs at that moment in time. Nonparticipants will offer only indifference.
Engaged observers of your art may feel drawn to a piece, because it represents something they actively seek in their lives, or they could feel repelled by a piece because it overwhelms; disrupting their balance. Do not misinterpret the word 'overwhelms'. Do not assume overwhelming art to be loud, gregarious, shocking, extreme in color or form; because, consider someone who has too much solitude or isolation or quiet. They can be repelled by minimalistic monchromatic works that amplify those feelings. Need influences perception.
So, in my opinion, the purpose of art or the reason we need art, regardless of our awareness of it, is balance. Either to provide it, or disrupt it. It guides human existence. We ingest it consciously or subconsciously. We form opinions about art that are not based on any type of concrete fact, but only our own intangible needs, desires, and experience. As creators we are responsible for finding our audience and filling those needs. More visuals. More music. More dance. More stories. More white space. More art. As observers it is our responsibility to evaluate art, weigh it, judge it, consider it, and determine if it brings something to our lives that wasn't there before.