What Makes It Art?

Today I’m revisiting that much debated question: What is art? What is it about a drawing or painting that makes us call it art?

Even before I begin, I know, of course, that there is no single definitive answer, and in the end perhaps the only conclusion we can agree upon will be the idea that art, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Art is, indeed, a very personal experience, and to my mind, that’s at least, in part, what makes art… well, art.

I recently came across what I consider to be a good definition of art:

Art, in its broadest sense, is a form of communication. It means whatever the artist intends it to mean, and this meaning is shaped by the materials, techniques, and forms it makes use of, as well as the ideas and feelings it creates in its viewers. Art is an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations.

From “Boundless Art History”

I like this definition because it ties together many different ideas of art that I’ve explored as I’ve become an artist.

For me, learning that art has a narrative was a significant step in my education. I’m now learning more about how art communicates and the many ways in which it is used to express very specific ideas — religious ideas, political statements, historical events, and more.

Another question that I’ve asked here in this blog is in regard to the meaning — if any — to be found in abstract art. Are we supposed to find meaning there? Indeed, according to this definition — above —  art, including abstract art, means whatever the artist intends it to mean.  Good definition, don’t you think? Of course, that still leaves the door open for a lot of, well, shall we say questionable art, like that of Piero Manzoni, who pooped in a can and called it art. At least some folks must have agreed because he made a lot of money selling his shit. Excuse the language, please.

How One Artist Turned Cans of Shit into $300,000 Works of Art

Call it art if you wish. I’ll reserve my right to not consider it so. Again, though, to each his own, and frankly I don’t care what message Manzoni was sending.

Another aspect of the “Boundless History of Art” definition that I like is that it relates art to the materials, techniques, and forms we use. Art does require some knowledge, and I’d like to think, some skillful use of materials, techniques, and forms. To create art, we need some understanding of the elements which make art pleasing to view. Art is composed of lines, shapes, colors. Good art has balance, rhythm, harmony.

But while art begins with the artist, it ends with the viewer, and as the definition points out, the creative power of art continues after a work is finished. Art evokes emotions, it creates thoughts and feelings in those who see it.

“Art is an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations.”

The last line of this definition is worth repeating because more than any other definition I’ve come across, this touches on the true heart of art. It is an act of personal expression, one that is shared through visual elements, one with the power to touch others.

More and more, I hope to put more personal expression into my art, to learn how to use the language of art to communicate with others and share my thoughts, my feelings, and my observations of the world.

We’ll never all agree on what art is or what makes a work into a piece of art, but I think we can agree that art is a powerful form of expression. I want to respect that power.


  1. Great post! Art is a wide arena which, in my view also, has no room for cans of poop!

    I see art as two dimensional – the artist and their audience – the artist, as creator, gives themself to the art (be it painting, sculpture, etc), their emotions, energy, and experiences are captured within, the audience are consumers, they take from the artwork emotions and energy, and use their experiences to interpret.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Karen. I think those who choose to see cans of poop as art are certainly entitled to their opinions, but I see them, also, as being delusional. I like the way you put the interchange between artist and audience. Yes, both are important!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for visiting! I’m always looking for interesting art blogs. When I came across yours this morning, I was happy to “follow”. Please feel free to share any thoughts you have about art and how we create it. We do have a strong, supportive online community of artists, and making connections with others has been a huge help for me in learning about art and developing my abilities to draw and paint.


      1. I started learning to draw in 2015, and I first started oil painting in December 2016, so I still have much to learn. I started this blog in hopes of encouraging others who, like me, were bravely setting out on the path of artistic adventure and discovery. I’m learning new things every day, and I’m happy to share what knowledge I find. As you said, art is a lifelong learning experience. It can be frustrating at times, but it can also be fun. I try to work through the frustrations and find the fun as much as possible. 🙂


      2. Later I plan to visit your blog and spend time browsing. My husband is home this morning and we’re ready to head out for his appointment with the retinologist (regular eye shots). I have to be the driver after his shot, and it takes up a good part of the day. But, I will be back, and I’m looking forward to browsing around since I won’t be doing any painting today. I hope you have a great day with art!


  2. This is a really interesting post. That part about pooping in cans was hilarious! I like abstract art a lot but I agree it doesn’t make me feel anything.
    One of my favorite movements is Pop Art and I’m curious to know what you think of that. I just started a 1960s art blog so it’s something I’ll write about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL… when I first read your post, I thought you wrote “Poop Art” instead of “Pop Art”. I’m still laughing. Maybe it’s still a bit early in the morning for my brain, or maybe it’s already worn out since I’ve been up for nearly 6 hours already. I have a lot of mixed feelings about abstract art. It’s extremely difficult for me to create, but there is a lot I like. I think it’s because I’m always drawn to colors, so if an artist chooses and uses the right color scheme in an abstract, I’ll probably love it. As for “Pop Art”, that’s a fairly new genre for me. I’m familiar with it, but I’ve never really studied much about it. I’ve definitely never tried creating any “Pop Art” of my own. I will be checking out your blog! I’m just now getting settled in to my “new” art studio following our move, so I’ll be back to a more regular schedule soon. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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