Art Can Be Functional Essay

“We are in the presence of a work of art only when it has no preponderant instrumental use, and when its technical and rational foundations are not preeminent.”1

The words of George Kubler, a prominent twentieth century art historian, support the notion that art cannot be useful or necessary to society outside of its artistic expression. Kubler’s belief, however, is not solely a contemporary idea. The eighteenth century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, formally proposed this theory. Kant separated fine art from useful art, maintaining that an artist’s goal must be to convey aesthetic ideas through form and design. These ideas are original and creative and therefore have “purpose without a purpose.”2 In short, both Immanuel Kant and George Kubler, even though separated by more than a century, believe that art only exists for the sake of art, without any other functional value to society, and thus anything that possesses utility fails to be art.

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Initially, we can easily agree with this notion since art does exist in this form. Famous works of art such as Monet’s “Waterlilies” or Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” demonstrate that art exists for art’s sake. These artists express their ideas through form and design, giving the work “purpose without a purpose.” Even though art exists for the sake of artistic expression, we can also find art that defies the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Bridges exist as art, and thus engineers exist as artists. Although bridges stand as feats of engineering that perform the task of connection, bridges also display great beauty. Undoubtedly, beautiful bridges evoke an array of emotions from observers, much the same as an inspired painting, and thus offer warnings that Kubl…

…ltimately, since the George Washington Bridge qualifies as art, while also utilizing rational and technical foundations to perform a useful function, we can easily disprove George Kubler’s belief. His shortsightedness denies the existence of the art and beauty that surrounds us everyday. Herein lies the biggest tragedy. To limit art to such a small sample of the creative prospects offered by the world only serves to diminish the experience of aesthetic pleasure. Instead, people can and do appreciate works like the George Washington Bridge, which offer artistic value, while still providing a service to society. Art can be found all around us; however, art is lost without people willing to embrace and appreciate it. In all actuality, art, as its primary purpose, serves to enrich our lives, but only brings pleasure to those who choose to see it.


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