Can art be intentionless?

Well, it’s a question that has stumped philosophers and thinkers for centuries. Some say yes, art is simply an expression of the creator’s innermost thoughts and feelings, pure and unbridled. Others argue that all art is created with a specific purpose or goal in mind, whether to evoke an emotional response, tell a story, or make a statement. In this article, I want to invite you into a thought experiment about how our perception of art might change when artists have no intentions with their work.

I find this question incredibly intriguing and love to exchange ideas with other artists, as well as art lovers on this topic. When I visit an art gallery or museum, I love to observe other people looking at art. I often hear the following phrases over and over again: “What was the artist thinking?” or “What is the artist trying to say here?” or “What is this? To me it looks like … “

People unconsciously tend to buy art from people who can market themselves best.

But it’s not only there that viewers want an explanation. In the countless (online) magazines that present art and design, endless texts are published philosophizing about what and why the artist was thinking when creating his/her work. To sell your art, you should have a story to tell. This has been well proven in the past, because people unconsciously tend to buy art from people who can market themselves best.

Aesence | Artist Fernanda Gomes
© Minimalist Art by Fernanda Gomes. What was her intention? What if there was none?
Minimalist Art | James Prestini, Construction #81 via Aesence
Unintentional or made with purpose?
James Prestini, Construction #81, © Image via Artsy

Let the experiment begin

So imagine, what if an artist has no intentions at all? What if the artist painted or photographed with an empty mind? What if the artist simply followed her/his intuition, was completely in the moment, and just let her/his hands do the work? What if the artist only looked at the work afterwards and let the intuition decide whether to publish it or not? What if the artist was just making up an intention for his/her audience because that is what the people wanted?

Why are we always looking for an intention? Are we trying to find ourselves in a supposed intention? What would happen to art if there really wasn’t an intention? How would it change the perception of art? How would it change your perception?

Aesence is a creative studio and digital design magazine with a high curatorial approach. Founded by Sarah Dorweiler, a creative mind and entrepreneur from Berlin, her goal is to capture the feeling of harmony, balance and inner peace in her curatorial work and photography.