Art Definition Essay

Submitted By marquismodern
Words: 895
Pages: 4

Art: A Definition

There are many praiseworthy things that can be said about art: it can be sublime, making us feel both the overwhelming force of nature and the overcoming strength of our free will (Kant); it bridges the natural and the ideal, allowing man to achieve political freedom (Schiller); it makes life bearable through tragedy, allowing civilized man to experience the Dionysian (Nietzsche). Whatever art is, it seems the experience of it is ineffable to a degree that philosophers can reasonably ascribe to it so many grand and diverse effects. Even the idea that art represents our values comes into doubt. Hegel saw it as one of three ways of knowing, the other two being religion and philosophy. But as art’s power of representation failed to keep pace with progress in the other two, he announced that “art is, and remains for us, on the side of its highest destiny, a thing of the past.” He obviously did not anticipate the rise of modernity and non-representational art. Whether or not these works can compare to the great productions of the past is debatable, but they do exist in a thriving critical culture. Finally, drawing a distinction between art and non-art is no easy task. The rapid increase in wealth created by capitalism in the past two centuries has democratized the funding of culture, often making low culture more prominent than high culture. Is the difference only one of degree, or is there a difference in kind between, say, Sunday comic strips and Renaissance painting? The problem becomes even more acute when supposed low culture is not forgotten, continuing to be appreciated for generations. I think the lesson to be drawn from this is that there is no brief answer to the question of what art is. Any definition that tries to capture an essence of art will be either too exclusive or too inclusive. Making art is a human activity that occurs in many contexts and for multiple purposes, so there will probably always be fuzzy edges around what counts as art (probably getting fuzzier over time). There are constraints, however. The media available and our abilities to manipulate them always limit art, as do the biological limits to human perception. That said, I think there are at least three general characteristics art has. Art is the product of intelligence. This means that while accidents of nature, such as a sunset or a mountain view, can be very beautiful, they are not art. If this is true, the status of art lies not in the object but in the creator – a landscape painting may be visually identical to an actual landscape, but only the first is art. Art is created with intent. This is a stronger version of the requirement that art is the product of an intelligence, for there are many things created intelligently (they may even be beautiful) that are created for some more utilitarian purpose. The artist creates to express and communicate something through his medium, whether to glorify religion, to celebrate humanist values, to simply capture a moment of everyday life or excite a passion, or just to evoke a feeling of pleasure. With modern art the intent can be different, yet it is related to the first. In abstract art the attempt to represent some thing or idea is dropped in preference to pure exploration of the medium. (The most devoted proponents of abstract art even claim that all art is the exploration of media, such that earlier artists…