What's your Definition of Art?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by RalphLambrecht, May 25, 2010.

  1. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    We all use the word but few care to define it. That's fine, but I strongly believe that we need to make at least an attempt to explain what we mean when we use it. Not to dictate a definition, but to allow people to understand what we are talking about when we use it.

    If you disagree and believe that art should not be defined, I respect that, but please leave this thread to the ones who like to discuss possible definitions for art. In return, thank you for respecting that.

    I'll start with my definition but first a disclaimer:

    What follows is what I mean when using the word 'art'. I do not claim that this is the only possible definition. I do not think that this definition is perfect or complete. If a piece of work does not fit this definition, it still may be art. If a piece of work does fit this definition, it's still possible that it is not art.

    That said, keep in mind that the following definition is not entirely my 'invention'. Some dictionaries carry very similar definitions. However, over the years, I've thought about, discussed and argued every single term of this definition with dozens of people, many of them established artists, gallery owners and professors of art, over and over again. I'm reasonably comfortable with it, but I know it is not 'the one and only' truth. It may be far from it. Nevertheless, it is a humble and honest attempt to describe what seems to be impossible to explain.


    Art is the conscious expression or application of creative human skill and imagination, producing aesthetic work, primarily appreciated for its beauty or emotional power by a group of people.


    A few words in this definition need further explanation to justify their existens in the text and clarify their intended meaning:

    conscious
    There is intent, a thought process, not pure luck or incidental success.

    expression or application
    This includes the performing as well as the visual arts.

    creative
    Creative means unique, one of a kind and the opposite of copying. An identical copy of the Mona Lisa maybe perfect craftsmanship but not art.

    human
    Art is what separates us from animals.

    skill
    Art and craft are essentially the same thing. The artist is an exalted craftsman. The is no art without skill or mastery of the craft.

    imagination
    Take human imagination, add skill and you get art.

    producing
    Art is a product of some sort, a play, a picture, a sculpture, something you can hear, see, touch or otherwise detect by your senses. An idea or just a thought is not finished art.

    aesthetic work
    Art is beautiful. It may be in the eye of the beholder, but offensive, abusive, disgusting or otherwise shocking material is merely made to get otherwise denied attention, and is not art per this definition.

    group of people
    There must be a group of people appreciating the art for its beauty or emotional power. The artist alone appreciating the work is not enough.


    Now go and attack it from every angle you can, and we'll see were it takes us. I like to hear your thoughts or alternative definitions.
     
  2. ruilourosa

    ruilourosa Member

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    well well

    i thought that beauty had been out of that definition a few years ago... seems like bosch, pollock, nan goldin, joel peter witkin, bacon, nebreda and so so so so many others have left the art building!

    once a teacher that i had in my Phd seminars told me this: A possible definition of art is: a human creation that if it wasn´t made nobody missed it.

    maybe it could be wrong, maybe it´s too vague, but isn´t this undefinitionability of art that makes us call it art?

    There are so many definitions of it, goodman, wittgenstein, szeeman, kant, and art is always trying to expand it´s limits that i think it´s better to leave it a bit foggy, or not...

    i hope some serious opinions come
     
  3. arigram

    arigram Member

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    I would define it as such:
    "Art is the exploration of the human existence by creative means"
     
  4. Vilk

    Vilk Member

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    yup, it's not the only truth :smile:

    wouldn't you say "established artists, gallery owners and professors of art" might have a certain... bias, when talking about art? a bit like pitching professional photography, whatever that means, against photography...

    whatever happened to the heliconian babes? (or were they pierian?) what about inspiration? (no, that's not "imagination")

    the agony? the ecstasy?

    it's a good starting point for a sociological definition, and one that will put bread on many tables, but it leaves out quite a lot, too

    :cool:
     
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  5. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Art is subjective. A lone person can appreciate anything as art, even spilled punch. This flies against almost everything in the pronouncement. Because I believe it, and it is subjective, it is so.
     
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  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    A performance or object made to express something. Expression.

    Artists express themselves.

    One man's art is another man's garbage.
     
  7. Drew B.

    Drew B. Subscriber

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    Art is a photographer who lives in CT along Long Island Sound....and travels alot! :smile:
     
  8. kswatapug

    kswatapug Advertiser

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    I'm still attempting to tease out my own definition and am am fond of two notions that Ansel Adams shared in letters with two of his closest friends, Alfred Steiglitz and Cedric Wright.

    The first idea is from a letter to Stieglitz 1933 is the most elegant I've come across. Among the concepts he discusses are ideas that Stieglitz had shared with him that went beyond his own pursuit for technical perfection, including a "tenderness" as "a sort of elastic appropriation of the essence of things into the essence of yourself, without asking too many intellectual questions, and the giving of yourself to the resultant combination of essences. The soup stirs the cook--perhaps that's what happens in Art." (page 59 of Letters and Images)

    Later in the same letter, he expresses a more concise, elegant expression of the same idea, "Something Said about Something Felt."

    His letter to Cedric in 1937 is one of his most expressive, ..."Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness, which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these. " (page 95 of Letters and Images)
     
  9. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Good.

    Not exactly what i would say though.
    For now, a few thoughts about bits of your definition.

    Conscious
    I like your explanation better: intentional.

    Expression or application
    I don't really know what to do with that. Don't know what you mean.
    The application of skill produces an expression. It's a before and after thing (sort of), rather than an either or thing.
    It's also does not describe the distinction between perfoming and visual arts, does it? They all are expressions.

    Creative
    I would indeed include that. But i would not equate that to "unique". How about "original"?
    And that too only as far as the form is concerned. There are many, different, works of art that all express the same 'thingy'.

    Human
    Superfluous, i think.
    All it can do is say that non-humans can't create art. And we really do not know that.
    And what if, say, a porcupine can create art too? Would that change anything about what art is, besides no longer comlying with the "must be human" dictate?

    Skill
    Ah...!
    We have been over that, so you know that i don't share your fine art world view of art at all.

    It's not the skill, it's what you do with it. Art is not supreme, exalted craftsmanship.
    The real craftmanship, the real art is knowing how much skill you need to apply.

    Imagination
    Yes.
    Though this term itself is very broad, and needs to be explained, or qualified, to know what is meant.

    Producing
    Absolutely. It's an act.
    Even putting three pedal bins on a line, with the intent (or pretense) of turning that into a statement about whatever is an act.

    Thoughts are acts too.
    The problem with concepts is that they need a vehicle to be expressed. The art can well be in the thought that is expressed itself, and not in the expression it needs as a vehicle.
    In fact, except in that fine art world, i'm sure it is.

    Aesthetic work
    This is where the definition bites itself in it's own tail.
    What is "beauty".

    And again a fine art world definition.

    Art, an expression, does not need to be "beautiful" to be appreciated. We have all sorts of views, about all sorts of things. And we express these views in many ways. Some people find imaginative ways to express views about something that reveal more of that something than we normally get to see, or care to see. Ways that bring us into direct, intense contact with whatever the subject is in a way that we do not encounter in our everyday life.
    And that's art.


    Group of people
    Can't agree with that.
    Art is communication, and as such supposes a sender and a receiver. True.
    But there is no reason why it can't be the artist alone who poses a question and finds an answer, which he or she then paints, composes, puts into a poem etc. Whether someone else is involved is neither here nor there.
    Or, to put it in another way: if all visitors have gone home, the keeper is taking forty winks, do the paintings on the museum walls then stop being art? :wink: (Pure flippancy. I'm sorry!)

    There is another communication going on too (already hinted at above): the one between the artist and his world. Everything we do is an interaction with our world, we try to tame it, exploit it, etc. And in everything we do, we try to (and have to) understand it.
    It, and ourselves. We define ourselves by how we relate to our world (which includes both the physical and the social). It's an interactive thingy.
    In that process too, the artist understanding and appreciating his art himself alone is sufficient to have something that can be called art.


    So in short: i think you put down a very good definition of what fine art is.
    Now to the question what art is. :wink:

    What i think you have left out are things like surprise, relevance, intentionality, understanding and intensity. Communication is there ("expression") but perhaps undervalued.
    I'll try to explain why i think these things (and perhaps more) belong to an understanding of what art is later.
    It's easy to react. More difficult to formulate.

    That's one of the reasons why i am rather averse to definitions. It's much better to come to a common understanding through discussion.
    Another reason is that definitions are so definitive, so final. What we are, how we understand ourselves and what we do, is a thing in perpetual change (though we never get anywhere).
     
  10. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Spot on.
    I don't think we really need more words than that.

    But being as we are, more words will follow. :wink:
     
  11. stillsilver

    stillsilver Member

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    My thoughts would be that art is something created to share an emotion. Positive or negative. I also hope that we are including all forms of art. Photography (naturally), painting, sculpture, music, writing, etc.

    And follow and follow and follow…

    Mike
     
  12. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    I recommend the book, "The Art Question" by Nigel Warburton. The author examines past and current definitions of art and examines each with very insightful examples and counter examples. I won't spoil this discussion by giving his conclusions (which I agree with for the most part), but I will tell you he discusses all of the concepts put in bold in the above posts. A good read for those interested in such questions.
     
  13. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The one on the right.
     

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  15. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    :D

    I was thinking of Garfunkel too... :smile:

     
  16. noumin

    noumin Guest

    I quote it out of memory, it´s many years back since I read it,
    but here it goes :

    "Ask a hundred people about their definition of art and you will
    receive a hundred different answers. The sheer number of different answers
    finally proves just one thing : The term art is not definable and a term
    that´s not definable is a futile term."

    - Willem Flusser, philosopher -


    I have a lot of sympathy for that statement and this very thread will probably prove that he´s right.
     
  17. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Bears repeating, and I think sums up the definition pretty well.

    Defining art can only be accomplished, it seems to me, in quite broad brush strokes, and ultimately, it's not as interesting a question as the questions one might ask by simply looking at, listening to, or otherwise enjoying or being challenged by it.

    Even if the art is spilled punch. Or accidental, or intentional, or beautiful, or ugly.
     
  18. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    He also once said that every word he said was a trap. :wink:
     
  19. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Indeed.
    The interesting questions are the ones art has as its subject.
    Focussing on art itself instead is missing the point it has to make.

    But of course one thing does not exclude the other.

    So we musn't dwell too much on what art is at the expense of enjoying it, and all will be well. Eventually... :wink:

    As if we will ever stop asking questions like "what is art"... :D
     
  20. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    To me, art is language we need to invent because what we have now isn't sufficient. Art's core purpose is to expand our vocabulary and allow us to say things that haven't been said before. So, for me, art is the result of an exploratory act.
     
  21. Marc Leest

    Marc Leest Member

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    art is a form of communication; whether you like it or not.
     
  22. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    The word "art" is different to me depending on what, where and when we are discussing.

    I like to make pictures that shows the world as a beautiful place, especially those of people and how they interact with each other. Capturing the happy emotions is an important part, as well as the utilization of lighting, posing, background technicals and the relationship the photographer has with s(he's) subjects.

    There are folks who depict the world as a mean, cruel, unforgiving and chaotic place; those ingredients exist, but, in my mind, too much effort is placed on those qualities, especially in the news media and not enough of the beauty of people in the world. Brian Williams does have a piece called, "Making A Difference," that, to me, has artistic qualities. Therefore, I believe, art elevates humanity, projecting what could be rather than the destructiveness that can be inflicted on the other.

    Can you tell I'm a romantic?

    Making beautiful pictures of people can be challenging. I'm constantly working on how I can portray people in a beautiful way. To me, when that is accomplished, that's art. I find that most of the rest of the photographs are snapshots, with luck providing an art/wow photograph every so often.
     
  23. mdm

    mdm Member

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    Art is something created that is still treasured long after the death of the artist. The Sistine Chapel, Hamlet, a Rembrant. The work of very few photographers will last longer than 50 years, let alone 500. If you think you are an artist, you are not dead enough to actually be one. If you think you are an artist, what you really are is a wanker. It is very simple. Art survives for a very long time, it is not thrown in the trash when people move house, it passes from one generation to another, over and over again. Sometimes, in times of war it is destroyed and the ruins are still treasured.

    David
     
  24. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i have no idea what art is, but it is all around us ...
     
  25. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Conditioning? Food for thought.[YOUTUBE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He7Ge7Sogrk[/YOUTUBE]
     
  26. Shadowtracker

    Shadowtracker Member

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    Part of the problem for me has to do with 'craft' or 'craftsmanship'. If art and craft are one in the same, and I personally don't think they are identical, then craft, which is repeatable results = art, which I disagree with to some extent. Yet, when I was welding every day for work, I saw art in the craft or skill applied to make the end product. Sometimes that end product was another persons idea, but how to implement that was mine. Other times, I had to modify the design with an engineers ok because there was no practical method to make what the idea was. Yet, the flexible thinking needed to make a vertical-up weld that looked continuous, without interruption, was as much 'art' as anything I have seen before. So, the subjective aspect cannot be escaped. Other times, I think art is a political term of universities and salesmanship - not that those are not creative, but a kid playing with the mess in his pants is being creative, though not artistic.

    So, bottom line for me is, art is what I like. If I don't like it, no amount of hot air is going to convince me that it is art; pain and suffering included or not.