• Why do we need ART?

Why do we need ART?

Before we answer this question, we have to make sure we know what we are talking about.

Since I am a painter, I will answer this question primarily from the perspective of my particular craft, that is, from the making of art.

For theoreticians, for example, art philosophers, this question is the central area of their interest. The difference between the philosophy of art and the much more well-known philosophy of philosophers is that philosophers seek to gain wisdom about life (nature, what surrounds us, the given), whereas the philosophy of art is concerned with what goes into making a work of art: what makes a work of art a work of art? I have been studying both for many years now: the practical realisation of art and the philosophy of art, and I still feel I return to the beginning each time, because the more you know, the more you arrive at questions to which you do not yet have an answer. That's why I'm happy to discuss this with you for ages!

A work of art is a value-free and an open system of symbols that leaves room for each viewer's subjective experiences to interpret it for themselves and find a meaning in it unique to their own subject. Art has no purpose but always a meaning. The only purpose of art is its purposelessness.

In order to discuss a work of art, to even want to discuss a work of art, we have to like it. That’s the first step. Without it, we would not be willing to talk about art. When we talk about art, we make aesthetic judgements whether we like it or not, because it is about questions of form. We are not used to asking questions of form. And just as a judge arrives at a verdict with the help of laws, aesthetic judgements should also be subject to a set of rules called aesthetic categories. We don't have to agree on what a work of art is in its essence, but above all on how to speak appropriately about art and how to approach it in order to experience it. I work with the aesthetic categories as Immanuel Kant wrote them down in a comprehensible way in his "Critique of the Power of Judgement" in 1790. His suggestions are workable.

There must be no dogmatics of aesthetics, because such intentions destroy the original meaning of aesthetics. In other words, not dogmatics, but a categorical framework for what a work of art could, should and might look like when it comes to judging art, and how aesthetic judgements are made.

It is part of the nature of the work of art that it has a meaning, but no purpose. An artwork is created neither for technical benefit, usefulness, or economic advantage, nor for didactic-pedagogical instruction. It does not intend anything, but means/mediates. It does not intend to dominate reality, but rather to interpret the real. It has no will, but is.

The reality of art is not, like every directly perceived appearance, a mere slice of reality, but a whole with a centre around which all the rest gathers in space; at the same time it forms itself in such a way that its parts order themselves around a centre within themselves. In this way, what is shown in it (the picture) always appears as a whole universe in itself.

Art is made by mankind for mankind, if he/she creates artworks, and for the recipient, if he/she looks artistically. The viewer must know something, otherwise they cannot look artistically, meaning they need to be open to colour, form and movement – the key components of a work of art. This combination is called an aesthetic feeling. Thus work of art must be within the perceptual range of the consciousness of the viewer, i.e. that which is recognised in the work is all made by the artist himself and must lead both materially and spiritually to the creation of the recipient, otherwise the work cannot be perceived. Therefore, there can be no photographic art, because photography adheres to something that already exists: it adheres to something that is not made by the artist himself.

Everything in the work of art is hand-made; there is nothing technical, no machine in it. Spirit is transmitted through the senses. We can only build relationships with what we know. And as humans we do not have a machine in us, but are made of material and spirit. Artificial intelligence does not exist in us. As proven by Einstein (1879 – 1955), material can have spirit. When I paint, using a paintbrush and my hands, I transmit my spirit into the work for you to find as your own subjective certainty allows you to. Meaning a work of art can be seen differently by everyone. This is also correct because every person is a subjective human being. Art is a non-negotiable expression of every single person, like speech or singing.

To summarise:

We need criteria to talk about art:

  • A work of art is made of colour, shape and movement. It is a room in which we would like to be and move around in using our senses
  • a work of art is ALWAYS FREE of purpose
  • a work of art is open to many different interpretations
  • a work of art is entirely made by a human person
  • a work of art must please otherwise no-one would want to relate to it
  • a work of art is always the A work of art is always the sensual presence of the perfect (= beauty). By realising the beautiful in beauty, art is the only means of expression to counter the ugly with something substantial. A work of art always also gives the ugly an art form. Not in order to suppress it, but to deal with it artistically and thus have the possibility of countering it.
  • a work of art is a complete universe within itself and refers to nothing outside of itself (this is the aesthetic category of self referentiality)
  • a work of art is different from reality, it negates reality and shows the possible
  • a work of art communicates with the viewer and leaves room for the viewer to see themselves in it
  • a work of art contains truths. We call it "that certain something". And this "certain something" has the appearance of the known.
  • a work of art can be interpreted and experienced in a myriad of ways over the course of time (this is the aesthetic category of historicity)

So now we have established what a work of art could be we need to work out why we need it.

We need something that takes us beyond the everyday, the so-called mundane. The everyday is ugly. Art helps us to bear it. We enjoy looking at a sunset because it is beautiful and reminds us, consciously or unconsciously, that the idea in human beings is of beauty and infinity. 

Looking at works of art helps us understand that there is more to the world than just ourselves and our concerns. It shows us other ways of being, of seeing, new ideas that we may not have had before.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) said: “Great art opens our eyes for what we could not see before, small art just changes the shapes of what is”. Great art is always the realisation of a new form and small art is only the transformation of forms that already exist. This is exactly what Heidegger means. Art never aims for originality, but always continues to work on what has always been good in order to increase it. Whereby increasing does not mean complicating, but increasing always means going back to the sources. So it's more of a simplification. New things and progress cannot be measured in art. That is a matter for science.

As humans we breathe in and out. This creates room, space in our bodies. We have a human body and a spiritual space – our inner reality. We are in a constant dialog between body and soul; internal and external space, spirit and material, our world and the greater world. It all has to do with space. Where am I? Who am I? Why am I the way I am?

Max Beckmann said “Space/room is the palace of the gods; time is the invention of people.”

“A work of art is the purposeless appearance of a space in which the viewer who wants to perceive art would like to be him/herself.” (Martin Rabe).

The viewer is in the painting – and therefore invents the work anew every time. The viewer is literally gripped by a work of art because it is an expansion and extension of the everyday world they live in. The painting is alive in him and fills the viewer spiritually. A perfect universe in our chaotic universe. It orders and brings meaning to our world. It is political, emancipatory, showing us that there is something more than ourselves. Thus, by looking at art, we can open ourselves to the other in which we find ourselves.

In his book (L’art Qui Guérit: Art that heals) French neuroscientist Pierre Lemarquis explains how we need “medicine that’s a little artistic”. Research on the effect of art on the brain has been carried out for many years. A 2019 World Health Organisation report, based on evidence from over 3000 studies, “identified a major role for the arts” prevention of illness. In 2018, doctors in Montreal, Canada, made headlines when they started prescribing patients suffering from certain diseases with museum visits to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Jess Bone, a University College London research fellow in epidemiology and statistics, has conducted extensive research with colleagues on the arts and well-being. “I think people are broadly aware that there might be some benefits to arts engagement, but I think they may not always consider just how wide-ranging the impacts could be”, she told Artnet News.

The list of areas that arts consumption can improve or mitigate is staggering: “Life satisfaction, purpose in life, positive and negative effect, flourishing, loneliness, social support, self-esteem, depression, cognitive decline, dementia, other health behaviours, childhood adjustment, emotion regulation, chronic pain, frailty and premature mortality," Bone said. (Artnet News, April 26, 2022)

There is emerging evidence that arts and cultural engagement can reduce the likelihood of depression according to a 2020 systematic review of six studies with about 50,000 participants altogether. It was also discovered that adolescents who participated in extracurricular arts programs tended to fare better than those who did not.

A study from 2013 looking at artists found that although European artists tended to be underemployed, underpaid and depressed, they exhibit higher job satisfaction on average than non-artists!

Back to Lemarquis who is also president of a new French association called “L’invitation à la beauté” which offers “cultural prescriptions” to patients including artwork viewings. The UNESCO-supported organisation has created an art collection of original artworks to loan to patients for their rooms at France’s Lyon Sud Hospital and this program is set to expand.

What may seem intuitive, but is scientifically demonstrated in “Art That Heals”, is that art of all kinds acts on our brains in a multi-faceted, dynamic way, neural networks are formed to achieve heightened, complex stats of connectivity. In other words, art can “sculpt” and even “caress” our brains.  So when we say a work of art moves us, that is physically the case.

Lemarquis says an “unfinished” aspect of the work – the touch of its creator – helps the observer gain a sense of their own participation. Similarly, science has shown we feel a “distance” from artwork reproduced on a screen, compared to being in its physical presence.

“Our brains capture a lot more information than we are conscious of”, he says. When perceiving an artwork in-person, for instance, the brain is “lit up, buy something akin to beams from a lamp.” But when the level of exposure to the work is “weakened”, as it is with a screen image, he says “quantities of information, and consequently, possible (neurological) interactions” are lost.

“You don’t treat an illness, you treat a person,” says Lemarquis. “You need medicine that’s purely scientific to address the illness, and medicine that’s a little artistic to address the person, their humanity. The two are complementary. People need to dream. They need imagination.”
(in an interview with Devorah Lauter, March 2, 2021)

I recently started a course in story telling with Angharad Wynne – because I found it fascinating how telling stories is very similar to creating a work of art. Both are intrinsically man-made. Both evolve. Both change with every telling – I cannot paint the same picture twice, just as I cannot tell the same story twice. Both are heard/seen differently by their audience. No-one hears exactly the same story, because everyone has a different internal landscape. No-one sees the same painting for the same reason. Both are made by humans. Both can be interpreted differently and evolve over time.

„Stories carry with them the ghosts of all the storytellers in the lineage of that tale and telling, from the first storyteller who told it and passed it on, to the person who told it to you or wrote the version of it into the book, in which you found the tale. With every retelling, each storyteller added something of themselves, their own experience of the world or way of seeing things.

Stories then, are profoundly rich in humanity. They are vessels for understanding the human condition as well as wisdom on how to negotiate life or not negotiate life, and filled with subtle guidance on how to live in harmony and balance with all creation. It is not surprising therefore, that stories can speak to us profoundly of our own journey and experience in this world.” Angharad Wynne, 2023


I have come to the conclusion that we need to return to our human nature and celebrate our common humanity. In an age where children go to school with tablet computers instead of paper notebooks, where we try to make money selling NFTs, where communication takes place via email and Whatsapp, where images are constantly being edited by AI to make them more perfect, and therefore more inhuman. Humans are not perfect. We are a constantly evolving spiritual being.


We need to celebrate our human nature that puts us ahead of the animal kingdom. I don't mean that in the sense of superiority, but in the sense of DIFFERENCE. You can go home and reflect on this essay. You can reflect. Then a few days later you can reflect again on what you have reflected on, and perhaps change your mind. If we look at art, with a work of art I can create a unique universe that comes alive when you look at it. What the Creator, the divine, has created and continues to create in the infinite, the artist accomplishes in a finite form. The amazing result is that the finite form reflects infinity. It is imbued with my human spirit, which you recognise because we share a common humanity. Every human being is also humanity and humanity is every human being. As human beings we live constant evolution of our selves. We are never something that has become, but always something that is becoming. We are in motion. The perfect is finished and therefore lifeless. I experience this when I paint over a picture and try to make it better and more perfect. At some point the balance tips and the picture is dead. It has to leave space for the viewer to enter the picture. We don't need the perfect, but the humanly imperfect. In it we recognise ourselves and open up our feelings.


We need to be able to immerse ourselves in beauty, to enjoy a trip into our imagination, to celebrate the amazing things we humans have been capable of and the incredible planet we have be placed on.

Beauty is something supernatural that constantly redesigns itself into beauty. It is not something fixed, but something that always keeps our senses in motion. An aesthetics of the process of becoming beautiful, this aesthetics has not yet been written. Goethe (1749 - 1832) says that "the process of becoming" is what is important, that what has "become" is dead.  The neurobiologist Semir Zeki (*1940) says: "(Man) can only form a concept of beauty if he is seriously concerned with art ".

He found out that beauty is a unified concept related to the activity of a very specific part of the brain: "That beauty, no matter what kind, always triggers the same brain excitation... The stronger the aesthetic experience, the more the A1 centre is excited. This allows us to measure the experience of beauty...Whenever you feel beauty; this experience affects a large part of your emotional brain... In ugly spaces, people tend to behave antisocially. The importance of beauty has long been overlooked by architects who designed social housing."

Now we have just established that it has been proven that beauty is vital for us humans.

“Art gives you much to think about; however without one particular thought, i.e. concept, being adequate, therefore it consequently cannot be fully reached and made comprehensible by speech.”
Immanuel Kant.

Some other studies that recently came to my attention in Ingrid Fetel Lee’s newsletter (I recommend her book, “Joyful” which explores joy and colour)

  • Color boosts energy and mood. In a study conducted in four countries, researchers found that people working in more colorful environments were more alert, confident, friendly, and joyful than those working in drab spaces.

(2006 Nov 15;49(14):1496-507. doi: 10.1080/00140130600858142.
The impact of light and colour on psychological mood: a cross-cultural study of indoor work environments Rikard Küller 1Seifeddin BallalThorbjörn LaikeByron MikellidesGraciela Tonello)

  • Color can help you make fewer mistakes. We often think that a neutral room will allow us to focus, but the research tells a different story. Researchers in Turkey placed subjects in either a gray room or one with color on the walls and gave them a set of proofreading and problem-solving tasks. People made significantly fewer mistakes in the room with color.

(2006 Nov 15;49(14):1496-507. doi: 10.1080/00140130600858142.
The impact of light and colour on psychological mood: a cross-cultural study of indoor work environments Rikard Küller 1Seifeddin BallalThorbjörn LaikeByron MikellidesGraciela Tonello)

  • Colour increases trust in others. In this study, researchers had people stand either near a rainbow crosswalk or a regular black-and-white one, and asked "If you dropped your wallet here, how likely is it that it would be returned to you?" People were more likely to think that their wallet would be returned to them near the rainbow crosswalk, suggesting the colours increased their sense of trust in strangers.

(Rainbow-painted crosswalks can boost trust amongst strangers. A reminder that we’re all in this together by Charles Montgomery, published 21st August, 2017)


I hope I have been able to illustrate, or at least give you some food for thought, as to why art is so important to us as human beings. It is the most human form of expression we have. Why do we need it when we have beauty in nature? Because we need something that points beyond nature. We need more than nature because we are also more than nature. Because in our spiritual personality we go ahead of nature and designate and characterise nature as nature together with its laws. Man determines what nature is. We will never know whether we are really defining "nature"  correctly.

 ©Sibylle Laubscher

Image: "In the Cafe",  ©Sibylle Laubscher, 2023, handburnished linocut print