Self portrait, 1629, Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn (1606-1669). What we consider to be “fine art” today, such as Rembrandt’s self portrait, might not be how the artist considered his product. More likely, a work of art in Rembrandt’s day had a function beyond beauty.

The uses of art

Gowans asks, What kinds of things have been done by that activity traditionally called art?

“The question ‘What Is Art?’ cannot be answered in terms of aesthetics. … To know what Art is, you must define what it does. Some unexpected conclusions result.”

— Alan Gowans

Gowans, an art critic, believes that art historically performed four functions:

  1. Substitute imagery
  2. Illustration
  3. Persuasion/conviction
  4. Beautification

From Alan Gowans, The Unchanging Arts: New Forms for the Traditional Functions of Art in Society.