Creative Living

What is Art?

“The principle of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.”Jerzy Kosinski.


      I was chatting with a dear artist friend of mine, several days ago.  We were considering the subject of what art actually is?  If I ask you:

                       “What is art?”

How would you respond?  This may seem like a perfectly simple and straight-forward question but, surprisingly, it is perhaps more complex than one might expect.

     We found, as we do when we have this discussion, that there are so many ways to answer this question. There are so many factors and considerations.  We touched upon, for example, what is the difference between art and design, artworks and products that are mass produced?  How would we categorise the original artwork or the merchandised or copied versions?

     We even explored the integrity of an artist. What is the authenticity of an artist who mass produces vs the artist who creates only the one original piece?  We considered skills and training vs a person without that.  We explored accessibility vs elitism and we considered intentionality.  For example, if Person A looks at something made or maintained by Person B as a work of art, can Person B say that what they have made or maintained is not art?  If Person B had no intention for their made or maintained ‘thing’ to be art, then is not simply not art?  Or, if Person A sees or experiences the ‘thing’ as art, then are they not correct in saying that what Person B created or maintained is art?  I use gardens as an example here.  A person may simply tend their garden but a person who sees that garden may consider it to be a work of art.  Is it art?

    I wondered whether it may be easier to answer:

                “What is not art?”

Would that be easier to answer?  Are we more readily able to disregard certain things as not being art, than we are able to define them as being art?

     What of judgement?  Who is to be the judge of what is or is not art?  Do we need things to be labelled and categorised and judged?  Is this not a necessary part of there being an art world?  Or, conversely, by categorising, labelling and judging, are we not creating a hierarchical system and one that is exclusive rather than inclusive?  What are your views?

     I will come back to this subject in greater depth but, for now, I just wanted to put the question out there.  I would be most grateful if you would offer your thoughts and responses to this question, in the comments below.  It is such an intriguing subject and there are many views on this.  What do you think?  What is art?

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2020.

2 replies »

  1. I believe the the word art comes from the latin ars which has to do with making, skill, craft etc. There are some questions that are so broad that asking them admits of so many answers that asking them is futile, unless an endless, unrewarding, unresolvable discussion is the aim.

    I think it was Jasper Johns who said “Art is what we do. Culture is what is done to us”

    What do human beings do? I would suggest that most, probably, of those who claim, first of all, to be artists are actually (often would-be) cultural practitioners, not makers.

    • Hi and thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. I agree that this is a very broad question. I have it on good authority that this question forms part of a Degree course in Fine Art. It is one of those questions with a multitude of answers. I love the varied responses people give to it. I think that the matter of culture is an important and intriguing one to consider. Thank you for contributing. Dean.

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