Function and Purpose
In the Comparative Study,
one of the assessed criteria, Criterion B. Interpreting Function and Purpose may be new or confusing for some students. This page interprets function and purpose and offers some practical teaching activities.
Can you sit on it?
Function and purpose is a fancy way of saying, what is it made for? Some art works have a very clear purpose: a designed object, such as a chair or a vessel has a practical function as well as a decorative function. You have probably seen many examples of art with a religious purpose, or a narrative purpose (telling a story, as in history painting), and art that has a mainly personal, expressive function. Some art functions as a status symbol, conferring power or wealth to the owner, and there is work that is created with the intent to shock or disturb.
Function and Purpose may be more relevant when discussing certain artworks, i.e. religious, ceremonial, commemorative, propaganda, and less with others.
Does all art have a social function?
Does all art have an expressive function?
Does all art have a function?
Some different functions that art can have
(remember, a single artwork can have more than one!)
- Expressive function – expresses the artists’ feelings
- Descriptive function – records the likeness of a place or person or other subject.
- Conceptual function –the idea or concept behind the work is more important than the object
- Practical function-has a practical use, such as clothing, vessels, furniture, a building
- Religious function – tells a religious story or is an object of devotion.
- Historical narrative function- tells a story of an event in history
- Commemorative function – made to honour someone (like a statue of a famous person)
- Political function- serves a political purpose, such as propaganda.
- Symbolic function – symbolizes certain beliefs or ideas without representing them.
- Decorative Function- used to adorn the body, a room, a building etc.
- Ritual function – used as part of a ritual or ceremony, or has magical powers.
- Shock function – intended to shock or upset the viewer
- can you think of more?
Discuss the function and purpose of the images in the slideshow. In the visual journal discuss 5 more examples of artworks with different functions. You can refer to the list above or come up with new ones.
How to use this resource: Use it to provoke a class discussion on function and purpose. Look at each image and discuss the possibile function ad purpose for each artwork. I have used a range of images to address different functions but there may be more than one. You can also read the caption and see if that changes the initial response. Apologies if image quality and size varies. Image list with captions