What is this thing we call art, as in Visual Arts? Is every painting, drawing, sculpture, photograph a true piece of art? Obviously, that is not the case. However, the definition of art seems to be very personal to many and there is a lot of disagreement about it. What is art to one is not art to another. It is said that art is in the eye of the beholder, as is said of beauty. But is art always beautiful? Some great pieces are far from beautiful except in the conceptualization and creation of the piece itself. Some are considered expressions of genius, of intellect and powerful ideas, rather than of beauty.
It has been said that art cannot be defined; however, here is my attempt to do so. Depending upon your viewpoint, art is:
- The artist’s act of producing artworks, using great skill, imagination and personal technique, to communicate to viewers certain pictures or sculptures of ideas or actual persons, places or things, including the artist’s emotional reaction to those ideas, persons, places or things, through sculpting in clay or stone, or drawing or painting upon a paper, canvas or some structure that will stand up over time.
- The actual products (artworks, e.g., paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures) produced by an artist for the purposes described above.
- Unusual attention to detail and expression, as in the art of communication.
The key to defining art is communication. While art is not always beautiful, to be art it must communicate something to the viewer. It could be communicating beauty, as in delicate watercolor paintings and flower paintings, as is often the case. Or, it could be communicating the horror of war, as in a dramatic black and white photograph, or the majesty of a king or queen, as in an oil portrait painting, or an idea that is out of this world, as in surrealism. It should leave the viewer with a sense that he or she has just had a glimpse into the artist’s world–what the artist was thinking and feeling at the time he or she produced the artwork.
There have been many articles written that claim that art defies definition. Mostly, they are talking about the meaning of art. The meaning of art defies definition because it is personal to each of us. We may all look at the same work of art and draw very different conclusions from it as to what the artist was trying to convey. We can spend hours discussing those differences and, in fact, that is precisely what stimulates our interest in art. This is what art appreciation is all about: How to assess the meaning of the artworks we see. We want to know what others think of that painting or that photograph or that sculpture. What do they think the artist meant? Have we drawn the same conclusions? If not, why not? That’s why we often think of artwork as conversation starters.
I hope I have helped some of you to define art and to debunk the idea that art cannot be defined. It is defined, here, and in every dictionary known to man! It is the meaning of art that cannot be defined.
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