Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What is Art?

This question arises all too often in art school: What is art?

The proper response should be: Heck if I know!

Art is so subjective that its impossible to create a definition of "art" that everyone agrees with. Is it purely aesthetic? Does it have to communicate something? Does the message have to be recieved by the viewer? Does it require skill to be made? There are tons of questions that could be answered tons of different ways; I don't need to elaborate further.

However, even if there is no universal definition of what is "art," I can still give my own opinion. An artist without some sort of idea of what they believe they are creating is a sad sight...and one we usually make fun of in art school.

So, to me, "art" can be defined by having met several requirements and by having certain qualities:

1. It does NOT have to be purely aesthetic. Art can be musical, it can be performed, it can be written and read, or it can be looked at.

2. There should be something communicated, or there should be an intent to communicate, through the work of art. This "something" may be an idea or an emotion. For instance, a naturalistic reproduction of, lets say, a banana, just for the sake of hanging on the wall and impressing your friends when they come over, is not what I would consider "communication." I would consider it pure demonstration of skill, and therefore, would call it a "craft," not an "art." On the other hand, I would consider a painting of hundreds of bananas surrounding me, ready to attack, to be a work of art possibly attempting to communicate the idea that bananas are purely evil, or the feeling that they are driving me insane. Whether its art thats worth looking at is debatable, but so are a lot of things.

3. It does not have to be pretty. I don't care to judge whether or not something is a piece of art simply because the artist does or does not have talent. What I would really like to call in for judgment is the thought process behind the art. In other words, why does it exist?

4. The intended communication does not have to be recieved by the viewer. The fact of the matter is, most people are too thick to interpret a work of art just by what they see in front of them. I am including myself in the word "most." Some ideas are easy enough to understand, but some are riddled with metaphors, hidden well, or simply communicated badly. Does this mean the ideas or emotions aren't there? No. It just means the work of art may or may not be as successful as the artist would have hoped, or that the viewer isn't up to the task of interpreting. Success is another subject for another day.

I believe thats pretty much it. "Art" can be made of many mediums, it must intend to communicate, and it doesn't have to be pleasing to the eye or mind. Number two seems to be the most important factor in differentiating between "art" and "craft."

Please, if you have your own ideas, leave a comment.

Now the only question left to be asked about "art" is what constitutes a work of art as complete bull crap or something actually worth stopping and looking at. The world may never know.

And I leave you with a work of my own.

self portrait
charcoal on 24" x 36"


  1. Well, I've only just found this blog and-- oh my!-- it already seems to be under investigation for some sort of ToS violation?

    Well, controversy and art have walked hand in hand since the dawn of time.

    (This is Sean from karate/Booker by the way.)

  2. Hi Sean!

    Yeah, the email I got said that it was marked as a spam blog by the spam finder thingy. I told them it wasn't; they're investigating. I've only had the blog for a few days, haha.

  3. I can't tell you how many times I've head people argue over this subject in literature classes. Sometimes, I want to cry out, "can we just read the damn book?"

    Excuse my language.
    much love!

  4. ugh, the subject of what is art and what isn't art. Definitely a personal thing. Personally, I think representations of beauty are always overlooked by saying, "it has no meaning, sure it looks pretty, but what does it mean?!" I always want to slap these art critics in the face, even though I am far from confrontational. I think art has a very escapist element to it. It's wrong when people look at something that's beautiful, and think that's all it has to it. Why is beauty not as good as ugliness in the art world? Personally, I like beautiful artwork, it gives me hope and it gives me happiness. :) As for what attracts our attention and what doesn't, that's something I'll never understand, and never be able to try to explain. And I agree with you that artwork should have a message, but I think an artwork can depict beauty and still have a message. Okay, I'm not sure that made any sense, but I came across this extreme prejudice towards Will Cotton when I was researching for a painting project. And a lot of people thought that it wasn't art, because it was just meant to be beautiful and apparently "tittalating," and that it was very shallow artwork. I don't know where people can come off saying that when they don't know this artist, and also don't know his intent. I looked at his artwork and loved it. I saw this completely wonderful paradise, and I didn't really see the girls in them as sexual. They just looked happy, they were naked, but personally the whole appeal of his artwork was that it had this return to Eden feel with candy and apparently only women. Maybe he thinks that women alone would have been better off in paradise without men. :P ha ha, I have no idea, but I like beauty and I think it's worthy of being called art. However, your banana example is valid, in my opinion. Makes sense, if it's just a banana, it's just a banana, unless it has some subtle spots on it that when viewed from far away line up to form Jesus's face, and in the end has some message that says to the viewer that God is in nature. Maybe that's their idea of beauty though...hmmm...I guess we can't really say anything against any kind of art without differing opinions. Okay, I'll shut up now, I think my message is longer than your whole journal. By the way it's Ashley, photographer of dramatic tomatoes! :D Okay, that was only one time, but still...

  5. Ashley, I agree that art can simply convey beauty. That is a wonderful and relaxing message. I have no doubts that if the artist's intent was to show his viewer his idea of beauty, then it can be called art.

  6. Hey Sara , do you like Maggie Taylor? She is currently my favorite artist , errrr besides you of course :-)

    She does all photoshop type stuff. Excuse my non use of the correct terminology please.