Form vs. Function: What does your art do?

This lovely blue piece was made by Heather Robinson, a Holland, Michigan artist who often fields questions like this at art shows:

“But what is for?”

People get her ceramic buttons and paper bead jewelry, but passersby often want to know what pieces like the blue one above “do.” And they look to Heather to provide them with a satisfying answer, a reason to buy. If it doesn’t hold flowers or serve some other kind of obvious purpose, why should they buy it?

Heather is a polite woman, and not one to criticize her public for lacking imagination. (My assertion, not hers.) Instead she explains her art and the influence nature has on the things she shapes from clay with her bare hands inside a studio that occupies the second floor of a small yellow barn behind the house where she dreams up these whimsical forms.

Since interviewing Heather, I’ve thought a lot about the things people say when they look at art, the way many of us seem to fight to justify our responses to intoxicating pieces that appear to lack function. The economy tanked out a long time ago. Money is tight. Why should we buy something that doesn’t do anything?

Because sometimes art does everything.

If a piece of art stops you in your tracks and triggers some kind of response in you, it  just did something. You might not be able to plop a dozen roses in it, but maybe there’s something about its shape or color that brightens your life or lightens your mental load for a bit. What better function can there be, really? I already have too many vases anyway.

What do you think?

You can read more about Heather and her art on my newspaper blog and check out her online shop.

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