Meaning of ART, what art means to us? Define art

Does art have to be beautiful, original and complex or have monitory values? Is it only art if it was made by an artist?  What if an artist creates an Idea and the art is made or manufactured by someone else? Can a chair or pile of rocks be art?

Answers to these questions vary from person to person and culture to culture. Even artists, historians and philosophers all have different ideas about what makes art an art.

You may be asking if no one can come to an agreement about what art is then why we should we even try to define it.

Here's why!

The more we talk about what art is the more we learn about what art means to us and understand what it means to other  people.  Many people think of art as beauty. We can all recall an art work that made us pause and think Wow! That is beautiful. Beauty can certainty be a useful way to judge what you consider art, but is it all arts beautiful?

What about Picasso’s weeping women or graffiti images like Banksy which draw attention to corruption and hopelessness?  


May be you need more concrete criteria to define art. The elements of art are more formal ways to analyze artistic components like color, shapes, line texture and space. Does each element work together to enhance the art work subject? If an artist aims for realistic colors were they successful or did mistakes in shading, leading it to accidently purple tree.

This leads to another important question we need to ask about art. What was the artist intent?

Henri Matisse said I do not literally paint the table but the emotion it produces upon me. Matisse’s paintings like blue table cloth and bowl of apples on table clearly communicate theses emotions visions. Successful emotional expressions are yet another way to judge good art. If Matisse’s intent had to been to paint tables or apples exactly as they appear in real life one may have harder time calling his paintings art.

Henri Matisse blue table cloth and bowl of apples


Yet another thing to consider is the function of art work. Is art work still art work if it has practical or spiritual function? Can an everyday object be considered art work if it is simple repurposed or hung on the wall? Is an object considered art work if it is given some sort of spiritual significance or is the idea behind the object the most important.

In conceptual art the idea is just as important if not more so than the final product. This is perfectly illustrated by the art work “One and Three Chairs” by Joseph Kosuth which is composed of an actual chair, a scale photograph of a chair and the printed word chair. It is also perfectly   illustrated by René Magritte “This is not a pipe” which is painting of a pipe captioned with the words "Ceci n'est pas une pipe.” French for "This is not a pipe” This kind of conceptual art invites the viewer to examine the artistic qualities of everyday objects. Is a painting of a pipe titled "This is not a pipe." Art to you?

In art should form follow function or function follow form. What makes something beautiful to you?

So here's something to think about. What is ART?  

Merriam-webster describes art as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”.  Art is something that is created with imagination and skill meant to arouse an emotional response with its audience.  Art doesn't necessarily need to be thing of beauty alone it might very well being quite disturbing.  Joyce Carol Oates said “my belief is that art should not be comforting, art should provoke disturbed, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies and directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish”.

So each person may walk away with a completely different message or emotion but good art should in some way engage with its audience. So what about bad art? Marcel Duchamp once said that art may be bad, good or indifferent but whatever adjective is used we must call it art and bad art is still art in the same way that bad emotion is still an emotion.

So you might ask can anyone be an artist. Absolutely anyone who creates something with imagination and skill creates art. JD Salinger said that “an artist only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection and on his own terms not anyone else’s.”

There is no one single definition of art that explains what all people consider to be art, but by trying to understand both the artists intent that lead them to define their work as art as well as your own interpretation of it,  we can each of us come to a deeper understanding of what art means to us.            

So don’t take others opinions as absolute, more importantly what is art to you.  Don't be afraid of making mistakes and doing it wrong, go out and start creating something on your own terms and improve with each project you do just remember these words from the famous philosopher Bob Ross “We don't make mistakes we have happy accidents”.

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