What is art? I think about this a lot, probably too much.
It seems everyone is a maker of some sort these days and everyone is a photographer for sure, but what is art, and how does is it stand apart form that which is not art? I used to think that art had changed a lot since the time of Leonardo but now that I’ve explored the matter I think perhaps not. Rather than go on about what I think I am sharing some thought provoking Ideas and links that I’ve come across and my response to them.
Upon googling, “What is art?” I got this page which discusses it academically. In the introduction, they state this:
ART lacks a satisfactory definition. It is easier to describe it as the way something is done — “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others” (Britannica Online) — rather than what it is.
OK I rather like that but it is pretty broad and doesn’t tell me much about how to identify these products.
One of my go to people is Seth Godin and he does not disappoint on this topic. In his book Linchpin Seth says:
Art changes someone. It has to. Otherwise, it’s not art…
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does. Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another…
On his blog Seth writes:
Art is what we call…
the thing an artist does.
It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human.
Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.
Now we are getting somewhere. Art cannot live in a vacuum. If I am prolific in creating something incredible to look at but never let it out of my studio it is not art. Art communicates and thus must be shared.
Also art is not easy. It requires digging deep and sharing the most intimate and fearful parts of ourselves, our souls.
To make art we need to believe in something, perhaps most of all ourselves.
As I looked through some old notes on this topic (I’ve been pondering this for some time) I found this hand written with no reference to where I got it or to what it referred at the time.
The discipline starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. ~Peter Senge
As it turns out this does not relate to art, as I took it, but it may as well. Again we must turn inward and recognize that real art is something we know is inside us. It may be deeply buried or easily accessible depending on many circumstances but we all possess it on some level.
I like where I’ve gotten with this but it still doesn’t address another issue I am grappling with.
I hear it said more and more that art is for everyone and everyone is an artist. Really? That goes against what I learned in art school and I paid a lot of money for that. Moving to the end of the article cited above I get some clarity.
Today the questions What is Art? and What is an Artist? today are not easily answered.
Arthur Danto, professor of philosophy at Columbia University and art critic of The Nation, believes that today “you can’t say something’s art or not art anymore. That’s all finished.” In his book, After the End of Art Danto argues that after Andy Warhol exhibited shipping cartons for Brillo boxes in 1964, anything could be art. Warhol made it no longer possible to distinguish something that is art from something that is not.
We struggle with this because we have been taught that art is important and we’re unwilling to face up to the recently revealed insight that art in fact has no “essence.” When all is said and done, “art” remains significant to human beings and the idea that now anything can be art, and that no form of art is truer than any other, strikes us as unacceptable.
OK so clarity is maybe the wrong word but I get something from this. What Danto does not say is that Warhol certainly changed a lot of people and started a lot of conversations with those Brillo boxes. By Seth Godin’s definition and my opinion that makes it art.
Lastly I’ll share with you a quick story. I have a newish friend Emma who is an artist. I know she is because she told me so. Last summer Emma quit a corporate job she hated to find happiness. She was unsure what she would end up doing and decided to start calling herself an artist. Sure enough opportunities started coming Emma’s way. Arty things, and she is happy. Emma is making things happen.
I am an artist. I have a degree that tells me so. Does that make me more of an artist than Emma? I don’t think so and at one point I’d have said it made me less so. Today I am an artist because I do make things that come from my soul and tell a story.
I make art and art can make a difference.