Does Art Need a Purpose?

I recently donated a Little Free Library to a local mobile home park. I stopped by the library, which is located near the playground, the other evening and chatted with some of the kids who were playing there. Some of them had seen and even used the library, the others hadn’t noticed it at all. I pointed out to three second-grade boys that the library was painted by a ten-year-old girl who lives at the park. They were so excited to hear that. They walked around the structure pointing out various aspects of her artwork.

The boys also enjoyed rearranging the books in what each thought was the best way to display them. One wanted to count the pages in the longest books. One fifth-grade girl asked if I could bring more graphic novels. A fourteen-year-old boy said he loves to read, but had read everything in the library. I stayed for 20 minutes chatting with the kids, and it was so fun.

But I had another reason for doing so. Someone at the park has been breaking out the Plexiglas on the front. We’ve replaced it a couple of times. I hoped that by noticing the library, interacting with it, and interacting with me, the kids might learn to love it as much as I do, even if they are not readers themselves.

In those moments of talking to the children, hearing stories about their teachers and their schools, their families here and in their parents’ home countries, and their questions about the books I had included that I myself had written, I felt my heart beat a little faster. I remembered how much I loved trips to the library when I was a kid. How excited I’d get when the Bookmobile pulled into our neighborhood. How much I enjoyed talking to my friends about books we were passing around.

And I was transported back to the days when my own children were little and we’d take our annual trip to the bookstore on the last day of school to pick out some books for the summer they could read and add to their collections. I remembered all the nights we read books together into their early teens and how I’d practically memorized all the words in each of their favorite picture books when they were toddlers.

While I would have loved to watch one of those kids at the park choose a book and take it home right that moment; while I would have welcomed the chance to talk to a parent who had borrowed some of the books to read to their child; while I was sorry to see a new crack forming in the Plexiglas where someone had tried again to break it, I had to remind myself that not all art needs to be consumed and admired in the same way.

While moving books around to make them “look better” or being amazed by books with more than 300 pages is not the same as taking those stories home, it’s still a connection: to books, to the art on the library, to the house-shaped structure my husband built, to the people who have happily donated to the library, and to reading, even if it’s only reading the titles to decide where the book “should go.”

Does art need a strictly defined purpose in order to make a connection? Maybe not.

And that might be another way art saves us.

By Teresa R. Funk

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