What is art?

What is art? This is a question that many people ask whether they are artists or not. People who walk into an art museum and see three boxes stacked on top of each other often turn to each other and whisper, “What the heck? How is this art?”
Is art determined by individual preferences or are there specific rules that art has to follow in order to be art?
Marcel Duchamp put a urinal on its side, wrote “R. Mutt” on it, titled it “Fountain” and called it art. Is this really art?
Jerry’s Art-A-Rama, a nation-wide art supply store, posted this on their facebook page a week or two ago, “Is this really art?” This is a painting by Qiu Shihua at Art Basel Miami.

It was interesting to read the different comments from people who debated whether this was, in fact, art or not. I encourage you to read a few, although some of them may not be entirely “family-friendly.” While these strangers debated, some of them made very profound statements about what the definition of art is:
One person said, “Art inspires, disgusts, and gets people to talk about it. I would say with this many comments…it is art”
Someone else said, “I think of art as a creation of an artist’s hands that is done for the beauty of it or to convey a message or feeling. So I think it falls in that category. That doesn’t mean we are going to like it however.”
Another person said, “I’m actually sick of people asking if something is art or not. Yes, it is, when an artist creates it and presents it as art. Whether it is good or not depends on opinion of trained professionals. If a work that is displayed creates this much reaction then it is absolutely art. Perpetuating this kind of debate is nonsensical and arrogant. A pretty picture that looks like a photo is not the only kind of art in the world.”

Is something art just because an “artist” makes it? What makes someone an artist anyway? That is for another blog post down the road.

I hate to tell you, but I do not have a definitive answer. I do, however, have an opinion. I believe that art is about the idea behind it. I recently visited the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin and had one of those moments when I turned and whispered to my boyfriend, “What the heck? How is this art?” But then I read the artist statement next to the piece and it was suddenly art to me. It was the idea behind the two dots on the canvas or the pit of pennies and bones that made what was there art.

I overheard someone say one time that art had to be beautiful because art was showing God’s beauty. I am not sure I agree with that though, because Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is a masterpiece and it is about one of the most un-beautiful events in history–the Nazi’s bombing of the city of Guernica, Spain.
lists one of the definitions of “art” as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced”
Does this mean that the art student who creates a piece of work simply based on an assignment and without any concern for why s/he is creating it is not, in fact, making art? Perhaps it is a distinction in definition. Perhaps this student art that just happens through the desire of a good grade is more technical art, while the art with a meaning and motive moves beyond technical and into the realm of statement and masterpiece art.

This post is already longer than I had intended, so I will wrap it up. I believe that technical art is something that comes together without a plan, but works aesthetically and adheres to the principles of design. I believe that a masterpiece of art has a meaning and statement behind it so that other people can understand what the artist is trying to convey. As with every other part of life, there are always exceptions. I may be totally wrong too, but since this is my blog, I can say whatever I want. (That was an attempt at written humor).

When your four-year-old comes to you and says, “Mommy/Daddy, I drawed this art for you,” holding a piece of computer paper that has been scribbled on with 18,943 different crayons, you should not grill them on the techniques and statement behind their “art” seeking to find a Jackson Pollock type answer. That is art for all intensive purposes. It should be treated like art. And it should be hung in your gallery on the refrigerator.

I hope this post stimulated your thinking as much as it did mine. I welcome your comments! I doubt there will ever be unanimous consensus on what art really is, but maybe, just maybe, we can become clearer on what our own personal definitions are.

*Side note, I quoted the Jerry’s comments without the direct permission of those who commented.

↑ Top of Page