The Purpose of Art

Derek Zhao '18

The project: After a class discussion about the purpose of art that revealed varying opinions and no one answer, Mr. Zhao continued the conversation through a process of written interviews and photography. He asked fellow students to write down their thoughts on the purpose and nature of art, then photographed them and gathered their answers and portraits in a homemade book. He also created graphic stickers from the portraits. “I found students do not really understand what art is,” he reports. “You can answer in three seconds or take your entire life.”

From his artist’s statement: “This idea is inspired by the field trip to MoMA. Honestly, there are lots of art works too crazy to make sense to me. There are three pure white paintings that really don’t make sense and seem crazy when people take the first glance. These three paintings are really just ‘nothing.’ It was mind-blowing when I saw these three pieces. I told Mr. Hing about this artwork. He said, ‘Well, are these art?’ I thought a lot after the visit on the train back. I would like to say maybe art is about impact. If these same pieces were made by me, these would be graded zero at Williston. Nonetheless, these pure white paintings became famous because they were made by a famous artist.”

Biggest challenge: “It was sometimes hard to ask people to write for me, because they were kind of busy in the spring. My teachers also suggested I get more people involved instead of just students in my class, but I didn’t have enough time to extend my project.”

Surprising discovery: “I learned that art is really a weird subject. It’s not like other subjects. The more you learn in art, the less you know, because I still cannot figure out what is the purpose of art.”

Tip for future scholars: “Try to have a good topic or thing you want to work on. Don’t just come here and draw or paint or take a picture. You should have an idea of what you are going to do and you can change your idea, but you should have some sense of what you are doing and try to make some impact by your project.”