Many people (both ordinary people and art critics) affirm that the best art is meaningless and that art does not have to be about anything to be good. If a masterpiece is reducible to an explicit message, it automatically ceases to be considered “art”. Real art does not have a message and does not necessarily have to say anything in order to be evaluated beautiful and evocative. Art needs to be free from any logical, rational and philosophical sense. A famous English critic called Jonathan Jones says that “the easier it is to say what a work is about, the less interesting that work becomes. The greatest art takes a lifetime to understand; the slightest takes a moment.” It is the perfect representation of the “art for art’s sake” aesthetic movement lead by the French poet, essayist and critic Théophile Gautier who defined it as follows: “art for art’s sake means for its adepts the pursuit of pure beauty – without any preoccupation.” Art has nothing to do with morals in any manner and its observers only look for beauty in it, which is the only aim to be reached.
However, there are also people thinking that art always needs to have a meaning and a message behind, because otherwise the artist could not create it. Even the ideal of beauty, wanted and sought by the aesthetes, is considered as a message and an aim to follow. The artist may express his or her own feelings and political, moral, religious or didactic ideals. The meaning is sometimes obscure and not always understandable at first by everyone because it may be only visible to the person who created the work. Sometimes the observers need to have a particular knowledge and awareness of the artist’s life and background in order to understand what he or she actually meant and wanted other people to figure out. There is such an immense desire for artworks to have deep as well as surface relations to the culture and time they are created in. One of the most astonishing examples is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, a black and white huge painting that shows the artist’s attitude and protest against the tragic event of the bombing of Guernica city, in northern Spain in 1937. It is a statement against Nazism and it’s intended to portrait the terror and the carnage of the attack. However, like in the case of so many other works of art, the meaning is not immediately clear and it must be deeply interpreted and analysed simultaneously with the study of the artist’s contemporary political and historical situation.
Finding out if art itself has a meaning is a difficult task and what really matters is the ability of a work of art to raise feelings and every kind of emotions in the observer, whether or not the artist wanted to convey a real meaning or an important message with his or her art. The pursuit of beauty and the message become then merely secondary aspects, subdued to the importance of emotions.