Martha Breeze

A reflection on the meaning of art

A few years ago, I got in to a bit of a negative thought spiral because I’d summarised that the difference between art and craft is that craft has a purpose, and art doesn’t. To me, point of art was that it doesn’t have any point to it. I couldn’t find any counter argument that made sense alongside this and so I kept it as a belief for a long time, without even properly realising.

I’ve been looking at Maslow’s triangle of needs, and I realised that the lower tiers are more tangible, and they get more complex and personal as they go up.

I can see very clearly where people are working in roles that meet survival needs or more basic needs, but when it comes to creating art, it’s harder to grasp why it’s essential.

I have had many moments in life where I’ve felt I should be doing something better with more purpose, but I’m a maker and I always have been. Without truly understanding the value of this, I’ve kept a lot to myself.

I tend to value more tangible achievements (in an reflexive way, until I assess my thoughts), and I don’t know if that’s because I like ticking off a to do list, or if it’s something more general that many people share. When I summarised my personal work needs recently I saw that without inspiration, connection and play, I can’t get anything done and I don’t feel good, yet I don’t prioritise these things when I’m addressing goals.

When I’m excited, inspired, connected and spend time with people who have similar values to me, I feel like I can do anything, and I do it! Then I do more! When I work next to creative people, watch people who are passionate about what they do, go to galleries, shows, talks, buy artwork or handmade clothes or objects, draw in groups, make things in groups or just spend time doing things without goals or purpose, it fucking works!

That’s the point of art! The purpose is to fulfil the more complex needs of individuals. It’s not just the making of it, it’s not just the visceral pleasure of viewing it – it’s the opportunity to access inspiration, ability, and excitement for meeting needs that are not just merely survival.

Experiencing art is so individual, and that’s why the variety, bravery and commitment of artists is so important because we all have those complex needs met in such varying ways. I’m not saying I think everyone would have their needs met by experiencing art, for some people it’s just not for them, and that’s also my point. Like ants who work together in a team, we, as a generation, are working together to find new ways to ignite curiosity and excitement for meaning and purpose. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and sometimes it does, but we all have to keep trying and experimenting so we can all have the opportunity to feel alive, even when it’s hard to meet other basic needs.

Fine-art can so often be connected to the elite, the upper classes and privileged people. Some people are more likely to have their basic needs met, and so have more access to meeting more complex needs. Poverty and being less privileged in any way shouldn’t mean that anyone should have to accept just surviving. We should all be able to meet all our needs. Without this being recognised, it’s so easy to passively maintain a separation in terms of privilege and accessibility.

I’ve heard it a lot in terms of donating money. Many people don’t want to donate money if it’s not for food, shelter or medical expenses. It makes complete sense, nobody wants to be taken advantage of and give money only to find out it’s been used for something unnecessary. It’s just that sometimes, “unnecessary” is what makes people feel their lives are worth living.

Art is important. Artists are important. Especially artists who dedicate their lives to taking risks and producing work that the world isn’t ready for yet. So many people have made sacrifices to make work that pushes against boundaries most people can’t even see, and the outcome of their experimenting has been passed on to the next generations of artists without recognition or even being noticed. We have so many styles, designs, theories and techniques that only exist because someone spent time experimenting, and having a lot of failures.

I’m aware that this could conclude with a sales pitch, but this is a genuine moment of clarity and understanding. In time, or with conversation, I might change my opinions. For now though, I’m excited, even if I have to bypass some other needs for now to perch on the top triangle like a sparkly need hat with no legs.

Visit Martha’s page for contact details and links.

Photos of Martha by Lucy Cartwright

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