Why Does Art Exist?

(A Painting is NOT Just a Picture – Part 2)

by Damian Osborne


I continue asking my line of questions relating to What’s the Point of Art? in this second part of my ‘A Painting is NOT Just a Picture’ series. I have asked myself, what makes art vital? Why does art exist? You do you need art? 


Why is Art so Vital?

I spoke about the difficulties and travails of being an artist in the last post.  Why then are there still so many people in this world who feel compelled to dedicate their lives to the Muses?

To suffer and triumph in the name of their art, driven ahead by their insatiable passion and assiduity?

It seems kind of foolhardy. Why indeed do we devote so much time, money and effort to any pastime, or avocation? 

The short answer, I suppose, is because it makes life worth living.

An avocation is a personal calling. It’s not something you can ignore easily.

And the pursuit of excellence — whether it be through painting, or through sports, playing a musical instrument, making a great cup of tea, or just writing the best blog post possible — is always a spiritual endeavour.

The pursuit of excellence is a personal aspiration that’s not measured by how much money you have, or how much people like you or not. It’s a process of constant improvement, not an end result. It’s constantly pushing yourself to the next level. 

Art is the pursuit of excellence. It’s also alive as a process. Art of high quality is timeless and never outlives its usefulness. 

We can all recognize how much art inspires us. Even people who grew up with a limited exposure to art.

In The Artist’s Inspiration, I talk more about where inspiration comes from.

And sometimes, just getting out a sketchbook and drawing for 5 minutes a day is all that matters. Not worrying about trying to make a great work of art, wondering if anyone will like it, or thinking about whether it will sell or make you famous.

Getting down to just being creative is an incredibly powerful exercise with multiple personal, emotional and mental benefits. See: Why the arts matter by the National Endowment for the Arts in the U.S.


Why Does Art Exist?

Art is also the earliest form of communication. It transcends time. Art exists because it is a language; it creates a homogenized culture, and culture and language are embedded in our genome.

When we think back to the earliest prehistoric expressions of art, like cave paintings and clay figurines, it’s evident that our species has been capable of abstract thought and symbolic art since the Paleolithic period. 


Paleolithic Figure Venus of Hohlefels (of mammoth ivory)
Paleolithic Figure Venus of Hohlefels (of mammoth ivory).


Lascaux paintings.


Long before the Lascaux cave paintings, the oldest known drawing by a Homo Sapiens, 43 000 years ago, was discovered in South Africa. (Whoop whoop!)

Representing what we see visually has always been important to us as humans. And cave paintings were the original urge of this expression. 

Art has remained throughout our evolution. It is taking the time to observe things, to record things, and to communicate them. The earliest forms of writing were of course, pictographs. 

But art is more than just representing immediate things. It also goes beyond and conveys ideas, concepts, beliefs, memories, people etc.

Art has always been closely tied to religious expression; a calling out to the Deities. Making art is about desire; it’s spiritual in nature.

It’s the quest for meaning and it emphasizes the meaning in the world we see around us. See: Searching for Meaning: Where Does ‘REAL’ Art Come From?

Art is a symbol of our humanity.

It usually highlights a cultural, religious or political point in time.

So why does art exist? I believe simply because we needed to be able to express ourselves and to identify ourselves as different individuals, different families, groups, different cultures.

When people created cultures, they created something to represent themselves and that flourished into artistic expression. 

Art will always have value because it unites us.

Art is usually at the forefront of the advancement of culture, spurring fresh concepts, observations and emotions, casting new light over a nation which results in self knowledge and new identities. 

William Blake said,

“When art declines, nations decay.”


Why Do You Need Art?

Samuel Palmer was a contemporary of Blake’s. He created bucolic pastoral scenes and wrote:

“A picture has been said to be something between a thing and a thought” —Samuel Palmer

A painting is not just an object. It’s more than just oil paint on canvas. It’s what occurs within us. It’s an experience.

Art is a spiritual journey. It transports us and it teaches us.

Making and collecting art is a prayerful, spiritual practice. By putting love and thought into the work, it transforms us. It makes us more tender and more observant.

Art gets people thinking about things bigger than themselves. And depending on the context, art can make you more positive because it directs your heart and eyes to the beauty of nature. 

“God is nature and nature is beauty” —Vincent van Gogh


Vincent van Gogh - Cornfield with Cypresses
Vincent van Gogh – Cornfield with Cypresses.


Painting is visible poetry and is linked to the language of the visual life. It addresses the soul, and is both inspired by and becomes the inspiration for a deeper life.

As we are bombarded with social media and digital images everyday, painting is a way to slow down and find refreshment.

A painting is a still image, but the longer you look, the more it reveals. It can be open to different interpretations. It can be quite specific or ambiguous. 

Sometimes it’s better not to be tempted to over explain things and just enjoy it for the wonder that it is.

And sometimes people just don’t ‘get’ artists. See: how to deal with criticism as an artist. 

We want the artist to show us how to see the world, and their artwork to suggest how to live in the world. That is the true value of art. Not just making pretty pictures, but informing us how to live an interesting and an observant life.

Others see something in an artwork that may go beyond what the artist visualised or conceptualised. It takes on a life of its own. Art reflects others’ stories and it can become everyone’s story.

Not only does art solve the issue of having blank spaces and adds attractiveness or interest to a private or public space, it also creates topics of conversation and seed for thought. It may have the power to change or enhance people’s perspectives.

Usually a painting is a one of a kind product. And the artist who produced this original product, is him/herself a unique person.

I wrote more on being authentic as an artist and what I think ‘real’ art is. 

In these days of mass production and poor quality goods, there is still an appreciation for fine things that are made by hand. And I think there always will be. 

It says something about the artist who created it, who imbued his/her essence into the artwork. It also says something about the collector who buys it.

When we walk into someone’s home or office, we can tell a lot about their personality and their tastes by the art that is displayed on their walls.

We can tell a lot about how they see the world, and what consciously or subconsciously they may be trying to say as art collectors. 

So art is not mere décor. It has soul, which goes beyond intrinsic or financial value. Why does art exist? Because it enriches people’s inner lives.

Besides this, well-made art will often last for generations, become an heirloom and usually appreciate in value — financial, emotional, aesthetic, personal and historical value. 

Art is for the future. It says something about us. 

A contemporary painting is a snapshot of our time. It’s also a snapshot of the artist’s mind and emotions at the time of creation. 

And as it continues to exist, for many years into the future, so it begins to imbibe the history, stories and memories of its surroundings and the people who own it. 

When someone from the future looks at this painting, they may be able to say, “Ah, so that’s how they lived.”

If you missed the first part, check out: What’s the Point of Art? (A Painting is NOT Just a Picture – Part 1).


Please let me know your thoughts on why you think art is important in the comments below. And check out the video if you haven’t already. Thanks for reading. 


Check out my figure paintings here.


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