Neither audience nor artist should approach art as self-expression. To do so robs art of its universal applicability. If James Joyce had written strictly to see himself on paper, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man would not express me; yet it does. And if it does, whatever Joyce tapped into in the book must be something from beyond the self who was James Joyce.
Recognition of the universal in other people’s art does not necessarily give the artist a similarly open conduit to universality. How easy it is to say, “Joyce wrote about a sensitive, rebellious young artist discovering himself; I could do likewise,” and thus to produce a work imitative of Joyce in form yet devoid of the function that Joyce’s book performs.
The question of form and function in art is too often overlooked. In our age, creativity divides squarely along lines of familiar genre pieces and incomprehensible highbrow art. The idea of an artwork having a “function” or a purpose is a bit of a plebeian notion to both sides. Tools have purposes; but we can’t even talk about functionality in high art (since the artist declares what art is), nor in genre art, since that’s a comfortable product for a specific audience’s consumption. The function of the one is inward-focused, while the function of the other is financially focused. Neither is truly other-focused.
Yet Joyce’s book accomplishes something in me. It meshes with something in me that was just waiting to receive it. It closes some sort of open system. It just might be a functional work of art.
Somewhere in the many stages between draft and publication, Joyce must have set himself aside and set his audience aside and just listened. Walking the minefield of that distinction is the artist’s lifelong battle. The perils gather close on either side: a focus on the self, producing audience-experience-by-force; and a focus on audience, producing product-for-consumption. Strictly followed, neither of these approaches to creativity can produce functional art.
Joyce’s protagonist Stephen Dedalus says:
I mean that the tragic emotion is static. […] The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. These are kinetic emotions. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion … is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing. 
Joyce’s framing of the improper arts illumines the dreadful confusion of artistic form and function that we see all around us. While complaints concerning pornographical versus didactic and genre versus highbrow are not exactly analogous, each demonstrates the catastrophic divide on either side of the summit of true art; and each complaint calls us to set aside consideration of our own taste and audience taste so we can listen to something bigger.
If there is truth in the world, it must be waiting just around the corner. Perhaps this, then, is that universality that Joyce hit upon: the trueness of beauty. No, I’m not talking about prettiness. Prettiness is a description of form, but beauty is a description of function.
So what is the function of art? It’s to heal. And such is also the function of love.
Astoundingly, the analogy carries. In personal relationships, blind self-expression (read narcissism or didactic art) attacks the bond of love. Likewise, insecure pandering to the other person’s assumed desires (read kissing up or pornographical art) attacks the bond of love. The motivation of both approaches is the same: to prevent rejection.
So how should we talk to each other?
Of course, this whole discussion is a bit disembodied. In the real world, form and function are inseparable properties of artworks and loveworks. But this view of the approach can help us realize what’s wrong when art and love aren’t working.
Form grounds people and gives them a sense of belonging. It’s the vehicle through which they experience the function of love. Just as we read genres in literature, we read genres in acts of love. Some people read romance. Others prefer literary fiction. Some people feel loved when you take out the trash for them. Others need tender words.
When love isn’t working, there are two things to check: actions and heart—form and function. You can’t repair a bad heart on your own, but you can at least choose the right action. You can at least write in the correct genre while you wait for your heart, for the trueness of beauty, to come back.
But you can’t stay there. Execution of familiar forms is the laziest, most dangerous place for an artist or a lover to be. If you practice a form long enough, you’ll start believing that there’s intrinsic function within the forms that are familiar to you; and your heart, your muse, will atrophy. You will lose your awestruck gaze on the trueness of beauty.
Again, Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus:
—[My mother] wishes me to make my easter duty.
—And will you?
—I will not, Stephen said.
—Why not? Cranly said.
—I will not serve, answered Stephen.
—Do as she wishes you to do. What is it to you? You disbelieve in it. It is a form: nothing else. And you will set her mind at rest. 
You can’t make yourself desire the trueness of beauty. As visual artist John Baldessari has said, “you have to be possessed, which you can’t will.”  The statement holds across art and love. But the funny thing is that in love, if you keep trying, the possession will start to come upon you; and what a victory that is, as form finally fills out with function.
 Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Penguin Books, 1976. p. 205
 ibid., p. 239, 241
 Video: A Brief History of John Baldessari