A Martian came to earth and wanted to know the "purpose" of music. He went to a musical performance or two and got some answers:
An economist explains that music is an economic exchange. Why do musicians play? To get paid.
No, actually musicians are expressing themselves, says the psychologist.
The evolutionary psychologist explains that music is a sexual display. The males play in front of the females to prove their worthiness as mates.
Well, of course music is a way of praising the gods; music is really just ritual.
Or of sticking it to the man, destroying fascism, expressing ethnic pride.
It accompanies movies (but what are movies for?)
By now the Martian is getting really confused about these different explanations. Of course, they could all be partially correct, or relevant for some but they don't really get to what music really is, he feels. He lacks the sensory organs to be able to "hear" music, but he suspects that something else is going on.
Finally, he comes to my office at the University of Kansas. I explain to him that there are some objects whose purpose is to be really good examples of the type of thing they are. The purpose of the musical performance is to be wonderful. He asks me about the other explanations he has heard. I cannot dismiss them, of course. Music has many functions and uses, secular and sacred, economic to medicinal. All those uses, however, depend on its being music first.
The Martian goes down the hall and talks to some other professors. They explain to him that Mayhew's explanation is a Western idea that doesn't apply to most artistic phenomena. The autonomy of art only arises late in human history. Before that art was always bound up with other human activities. So music really is just a sexual, ritual, economic, or some other thing. Pure music is the exception.
So the Martian comes back to my office again and gives me the cultural studies line fed to him by my brilliant colleagues. He is right that music is not "pure." But there is a weird internet trick I show him. It is true that the tribal drummer or potter does not have a modern Western sense of art being autonomous or pure. But it is also true that these creators of culture do not have a "utilitarian" view of art as simply being "for something else." This utilitarian idea in fact only arises as a reaction to the same dynamic that produced the idea of autonomy. So to say an ancient potter made a pot so that the Pharaoh would have an object to take into the other world is true enough, but that's like saying the rock drummer drums so he can get laid.