Why should one create art to begin with?
People create art for different reasons: Some are impressed by the skill it takes to depict some object in a realistic manner and want to do it themselves, some want fame or glory or attention and try to do that which is "different" to get attention, some find it relaxing to sit down and create a painting of something aesthetically pleasing that they see, some have a need to give form and visibility to the things in them that they cannot express in words but yet need to see and ponder of.
True art, I believe, originates almost only from the last motivation.
If one wants to describe some object realistically, all one has to do is to grab a camera. It is nonsensical to work X20 as hard to produce the exact same result a camera would. Art is needed to describe those things which can't be seen. To give an example; describing the conflict between good and evil. In real life one may watch the news, however, the news carry with them a lot of details and complexity. A battle between good and evil men does not appear in a dramatized, pure form. In an artwork, on the other hand (like a painting), the artist focuses on the faces of those involved and their body movement reflects what they do, how they feel and what kind of men they are. The surrounding details may be depicted deliberately out-of-focus, both in their location and level of detail. The result is something that no camera could ever capture, but which purifies and dramatizes the meaning of "a battle between good and evil" the way we experience it. It describes it in a much more intimate manner, which makes art very emotional.
A young artist growing up today may be intrigued about the art world and immediately struck with the impression that to be an artist one must draw bowls of fruit. I remember myself at the age of 13 thinking that (however, I found the bowl of fruit routine too boring and after a couple of attempts completely deserted it in favor of painting what I actually wanted to paint).
Art, with its emotional impact is a result of concretization of those things which mean the world to human life and yet have no easily ready physical form in reality. Questions like "what kind of creature is man", "what is the relation of man to the world", "what is the nature of love and beauty" - such questions only art can answer, because it alone has the power to present that which we abstract from numerous cases around us and present them in a pure form, in a form that allows one to focus on that object and get almost a direct grasp of the meaning is of beauty, of man's place in the world, of the nature of good and evil and so on.
So what about the bowl of fruit routine? Isn't it art, also? It is, in a sense, but it is not fully art because it usually does not serve the normal function of art I describe above.
It usually describes no abstract meaning nor does it have any emotional meaning to an observer besides being the feeling of being impressed with the artist's skill. However, one may be impressed with the skill of a vehicle mechanic, that does not make a car into art.
Still life paintings describe several things which correspond to the way the human eye works, more than to man's conceptual faculty.
Such paintings have composition which complement the path our eye takes as we observe the objects in it. It also displays things in a modified way than they are in reality - emphasizing some parts with more light, contrast or glow while diminishing the appearance of others. It creates an effect of focusing our eye on something in a way that does not normally happen in reality - adjusting the world, in a sense, to the way our vision works rather than adjusting our vision to the world.
If the role of art is to show us those things which are so abstract that we rarely get a direct, focused glimpse of them in the real world, then a good still life painting will do the same but in regard to the process of experiencing objects. It is closer to an abstraction of the physical path we take in viewing the world than to the conceptual one, but it still does something of the sort for us.
Occasionally, a painting of still life is art in the full sense, because it carries with it an abstract message with emotional power. A set of keys viewed from an intimate angle in extreme perspective, describing pair of ordinary keys as a shiny, treasured object carries with it an abstract message: It describes a state of mind in which objects are perceived deliberately, calmly and beautifully - the same way a child would see them.
As adults we usually hurry and don't take the time to observe a pair of keys, but a kid may approach it quietly, look at it up close, touch it, observe how the light shines upon it.
To create a still life painting that illustrates that abstract state of mind, is to create art in the full sense. It concretizes, it inspires (or causes pain) - but it has an emotional impact related to some fundamental abstraction (fundamental to human life, that is).
In this case, the fundamental abstraction being concretized would be "living in the moment" or "enjoying the world" or "using our mind in a way which is relaxed and joyful".
Most of the still life work, however, I find completely devoid of any such message. They are usually boring. Those which look just like the object in real life are even worse, in the sense of them being or not being art, because they contribute or alter nothing in terms of how we see the world.
Modern art, relies on the fact that people have a hard time identifying what art IS. It is much easier to identify what art is based on it being in a frame and on a canvas rather on what the abstract essence of it is.
Some of them try to describe "emptiness" by using an empty canvas. But does it? Does an empty canvas the right way to reach the concept and experience of emptiness inside us?
No. Not unless one stretches one's mind very hard to try and remember experiences of feeling emptiness and relate it to the empty canvas. However, a painting showing a desperate man struggling to go through some gray-looking, empty desert would do the job. THAT is how we internalize "emptiness".
So after this discussion of what art is, I go back to what I started with - which is the motivation to create art.
Those who just want attention to themselves will not create art - they will create noise.
Those who are primarily motivated by desiring the ultimate realistic-rendering skill will likely end up with a display of skill, which may occasionally carry some inspiring or emotional message. It will not be art. How could it be? If the process of creating something does not involve the artist's emotions how do you expect it to have an emotional impact on an observer?
Those who try to go for the emotional impact by displaying mutilated bodies and the contents of some animal's gut are a joke. Just because you create something with an emotional impact does not mean it is art. Art is a concretization of some abstract idea related to human life.
The artist that feels compelled to open a drawing pad to put down an image he has in his mind will create art (even if poorly rendered), but it will be art, or the first steps toward it.
The more he manages to describe the abstract meaning that compelled him to draw better, the better the artwork will be. It needs to be realistic to resemble what we see and know, but not camera-realistic as to be indistinguishable from what we see in every-day life.
Composition plays a role is making a work of art successful, but composition has no power to make random objects into art. This is why I believe composition plays a secondary role only in art and can never be made to be the first consideration.
The artist who feels inspired to paint or draw or sculpt some person or object who, to them carries some emotion and abstract meaning will create art also. The artist doesn't have to understand what the message is in verbal, exact terms to make art. I think that in most cases an artist feels the need to express something precisely because they don't know the identity of the thing in full and they want to see it realized to be able to ponder it.
The rest of the motivations will create something which may be art in some sense but not in another.
A couple of final notes:
To give due credit: most of my writing here is learned from Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto. I think the analysis I present here is compatible with her ideas.
I am myself an artist - I currently study art in Georgetown Atelier, a school specializing in classically-inspired method of training.