The Art of Expression- When is Art “Expressive”?

“Expression through art” is a concept that is diluted and taken for granted by many artists and observers of art in today’s society. While art in and of itself can be a uniquely enchanting and powerful means to express one’s innermost thoughts, emotions, and individuality, it’s not always the case. You see, a lot of times art is an expression of talent and abilities. Not every time an artist paints or a musician plays are they putting their heart and soul into what they’re doing so much as they are exhibiting what they’re capable of doing. So how can one tell the difference?

Let’s focus in on the music as an expressive art. This seems like a bad idea since it is completely subjective and cannot necessarily be “measured” in terms of good or bad. However, music is most notorious for being deliberately composed with very specific purposes and motivations. I’ve been in jam sessions where my companions and I would pick a scale and would utilize our talents for hours on end; definitely expressive, definitely emotion involved, but nothing preconceived or deliberate.

On the other hand, I’ve interviewed artists who, when asked about motivations or inspirations, would delve into profoundly emotional and metaphysical catalysts that moved them to want to manifest in this physical realm how they felt, thought, or both. This can serve as a coping mechanism for pain, therapy for depression or instability, a way to reach out to others who may be able to relate, or a combination of all three. I’m currently reviewing a band that exemplifies this by way of their music on their debut album, “lp1”, by the band HundredMillionThousand. The album bio reads: “[lp1] is a musical mood journal, an audio log of the many facets of an ongoing journey with mental illness. It is a sonic coping mechanism, of persian/filipino producer Noel Jon, whose musical aesthetic revolves around suspenseful atmospheres, brooding pads, and aggressive percussion patterns.”

So just from this we can see that the difference between expression of talent and of something more significant is evaluated by the motivations behind the music, while it is seen and felt in the end product. Yes, of course, once again, music is subjective, so what resonates as powerful or significant with one person can be completely different for someone else. However, going beyond this in a general sense to a much more specific and personal scenario, one can see the difference in what any given artist is specifically trying to accomplish.

So if you take artist A, for example, who takes some time during meditation to create a song about the day he had (whether it was good or bad) in order to express some way he had been inspired, while artist B writes and composes a song over the course of multiple weeks to express his feeling sincere unconditional love for the first time or a traumatic experience he’d experienced during his childhood, both may be great songs, but there must be an obvious difference in profoundness if the artist has a goal in mind of how he wants his listeners to feel.

This applies to all subjective art. A painter who doodles vs one that has had his heart broken; a poet who writes about something cleverly amusing he had noticed about his children vs one who is obsessed and perplexed by the psychology of a mentally ill family member; a sculpter who creates a work of art to express his love for his newly married friends as a gift, vs one who wants to tangibly express what it feels like to raise a child alone. In every case, the product could be beautiful depending on the audience, but the artists whose motivations are deeper, more intense, more sincere, will obviously stand out, if anything because they have a more deliberate purpose, so the purpose of their art is more susceptible to being realized.

In any case, art is always expressive. But some do feel more strongly about it than others. Can this be evident in the art itself? Is their a concrete line between talent and sincere expression? Please, discuss below!

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