Two Purposes of Art by Contemporary American Artist Francis Berry

Two Main Purposes of Art

Art in the main serves to fulfill two purposes and consequently two human needs. On the one hand, we enjoy being entertained; on the other, we strive to be awakened. These two traditions have evolved since the onset of civilization.

As the distinction between the expression of these two purposes increased, some art became known as "high art" (almost anything "classical" for instance), and some art became known as "low art" (almost anything "folk" for instance).

Interestingly enough, the "high" and "low" poles of art merged into a style called Pop Art (an international art movement of the 50's and 60's [mainly Anglo-American]).

A telling example, Jasper Johns' (American artist) celebrated Flag (a literal painting of the American flag) is accessible and still as metaphysical as can be. Not only is it the flag of every store window or parade across the United States, but also the rarefied equation of art as reality in a painting which is the very American flag it embodies: art and reality merged into one. Indeed, any artistic image of reality, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, suggests a tension between illusion and reality. However, in Johns' artistic creation of a "flag" the tension operates between art and reality, as Flag does not represent anything which it is not, but simply materializes as an American flag.

Surely Flag entertains us with its sensual texture and sensitive treatment, and yet it also awakens us to the understanding that art is not necessarily divorced from life but can be evaluated in terms of reality rather than narration.

If the Mona Lisa's smile has not exhausted its mystique in five hundred years, the cool factualness of Flag is likely to reflect our materialist 20th century for posterity.

August 31, 2000

 Cleland Publishing