What’s the point of art?

The second in my series of talks explored the question ‘what’s the point of art?’

For this session I wanted to attempt to explain why works of art, concentrating on paintings, appealed so much to the viewer or perhaps not.

We briefly looked at perspective, colour theory and practice and composition. The story line obviously so important, the motifs, the subject matters, the background, in other words, everything that the eye of the viewer takes in from first impressions.

We then looked at the main styles of painting: representational, impressionist and improvisation,

following which the main styles and categories: Cubist, Romanticism, Expressionist and Abstract.

Then we concentrated on the ‘why’. Why such depictions worked so well whilst others not so, and how the artist may have deliberately moved away from the ‘techniques to bring enjoyment and satisfaction and fulfilment’ to make their works so successful.

From this we moved into the world of the ‘golden section or triangle’ the highlight of the picture with the rest of the view adding to the subject matter’s importance.

All quite straight-forward. But what of that spiral?

It’s all based on us as humans existing wholly and intrinsically within the heart of nature, and nature’s ‘natural inclination’ for balance, harmony, symmetry, proportioning and ratioing.

Following this I introduced the audience to the ‘Fibonacci sequence

and the ‘Fibonacci spiral sequence’.

Our brains are wired in such a way that makes images more pleasing to the eye when they follow the ‘golden ratio’ (rectangle). Nature’s natural inclination for balance and harmony, symmetry and proportioning and ratioing follows the golden ratio patterning eg eggs, seashells, flowers and our own ears.

We are fundamentally constructed of these eurythmic symphonies of form woven into the very fabric of our existence, (Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man)

to connect and resonate with the patterns of nature within which us as humans fundamentally fit, …

In addition, we like structure a solidity. In technological, engineering, physics terms this is usually the triangle.

So when we look at a work of art, are we being impressed by the artist’s use of the Fibonacci spiral and the golden triangle etc, or by their absence, are we being repelled – deliberately or otherwise?

This took some explaining but it is such an important aspect of ‘what is the point of art’ as it can explain why various works appeal and others not and indeed why the artist may have deliberately moved away from the approach to deliberately unsettle the viewer for instance Picasso’s ‘Guernica’.

Using some famous works, the Fibonacci spiral was applied to see how the works worked so well. Overall it became quite obvious whereas with some famous works applying the spiral seemed a little dubious for example with a Bellini Madonna.

So let’s recall, essentially artists are attempting to communicate directly with our innate need for balance, harmony, structure and well-being or to challenge that innate need.


They do thus by using techniques and styles employing line, colour, perspective, and the golden ratio.

So we can now apply what we’ve covered in ‘how art works’ to what is its point – how have artists used their skills and techniques to give art a POINT? i.e. to make it work; its role and purpose and thus how successful it is at fulfilling its role and purpose by employing the techniques that makes it work as a piece of art?

Thus the role and purpose of art … its point …

divine worship

narrative or story telling

pleasing harmony and aesthetics

recording of history or of people ie portraits

political and propaganda purposes

idealization of beauty

expression of fear

social commentary

commercialism and persuasion

empathetic reflection : “I would like you to reflect back on the images we’ve seen and maybe also think about some other art works that you particularly identify with. Can you involve yourself within the picture? Can you identify, empathise with the artist and where he or she may be coming from IN TERMS of your own empathetic interpretation of the work? Can you reflect within yourself how the works helps you to feel – whatever it is?”

The talk was well received and feedback showed that my approach had opened up most of the audience to a greater understanding of art and why it appeals so much, or not.