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.
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.