|Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917)|
1. A degree of aesthetic skill in design and craft,
2. A degree of vision and
3. A primarily artistic purpose – that is, to be observed rather than used.
Over history, art has fulfilled a multitude of socio-cultural, commemorative, political and religious purposes. Propaganda is one such use; Henry VIII's hugely accentuated genital area and colossal shoulders, as depicted by Hans Holbein the Younger (1536), enhance the image of a terrifyingly powerful monarch to be obeyed without question. The 20th Century saw this flourish – from rat-like Japanese soldiers gnawing on Alaskan soil (1941) to al-Qaeda operative al-Zarqawi imprisoned in a rat-trap (2003-2006). Creating art to express spiritual ideas was also a worldwide phenomenon, with Fra Fillipo Lippi’s Madonna and Child (1445) and the Five Deity Mandala (17th Century) in Tibet both delving into the realm of the supernatural. (Of course, religious art is also a kind of propaganda.) Before and even after the advent of the daguerreotype in the late 1830s, art was also quite simply used to document the world. From Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait (1887), we can know he had an orange beard – or at the very least, we can know he wanted us to think he had an orange beard. This is invaluable for historians and historiographers in constructing a coherent model of the past.
“Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings / Conquer all mysteries by rule and line’– John Keats’ Lamia (1819)