It’s a beautiful waterfall in Hawaii.
I went there for vacation last week and I saw some amazing waterfalls, lakes, the beach, the ocean, and other great pleasures. Throughout the trip, I learned a little about the history of Hawaii and was amazed that a group of primitive people could simply create this wonderful art pieces: they basically had to move waterfalls and create them so that they can irrigate their crops and get freshwater. Now while I’m dazzled that people way back in the third through the seventh century can do this, I was also thinking about how beautiful their creation was. Just look at it! But then I thought to myself, “now wait a minute. They probably weren’t thinking about something beautiful, they only made the waterfall in order to move the water for other purposes. In this case, farming. In fact, I doubt they intentionally made something beautiful at all.” Can art be still art if there’s no intention behind it? But then something else came to my mind: what if other art pieces are like this? Think of the chair you’re sitting in, for example. We think of this chair as a functional piece: it’s something to sit on. But what if 1,000 years from now, a future civilization would look at the chair as an art object, and they considered it beautiful? I don’t think I could consider my chair as an art object, although I could if I tried. But this makes me think what art is. When people create something, it’s usually for funtional or mechanical purposes. I don’t think people intentionally create something beautiful but also functional at the same time. Then it hit me. Art is useless. Now I don’t mean to say that art is worthless. Art is wonderful, check out a museum or listen to some great music. What I mean is that art carries some characteristic where it’s no longer function, or it has no purpose. Think of a regular baseball. It’s purpose is to play catch with it. But what if it was signed by Babe Ruth for example? There’s no way you’d play with that ball. Thus, the ball has lost it’s functionality and has become useless (note, not worthless). Thus, we keep the ball but not for functional purposes, but for aesthetic purposes (or purhaps monetary in the case of the baseball). So maybe art has that defining characteristic, it’s useless, meaning that it serves no function.
When we go to museums, we see many tools that people in the past used. But those tools (some piece of pottery, for example) served a purpose. It was to carry things. But now, it no longer serves that purpose, it’s lost it’s functionality and it’s now useless. Thus, we call it art. Are all useless things art? No, a broken pen is simply a broken pen, and it will perhaps never be displayed in a museum. But I do think that all art does have the characteristic of uselessness, meaning it serves no function.