What is Art?

6 Jul

The other night sitting, focused and full, we began our summer book club (A very small and elite group of scholars). In the Lamplighter, a bar of dubious cleanness and smoke that still sits on pants, we flipped through passages, reminiscing about our favorite parts and discussing the underlying purpose of Nabokov’s Lolita. The minutes quickly passed until my throat became parched from a lack of imbibment, due to my unceasing rants and tangents.  Then at some point a skinny, ginger man at the bar interrupted our then waning discourse on Lolita. He inquired about something strange, maybe an off handed discussion about movies and his life; let’s just say my mind was wondering. At some point I started to argue with him. While this will not come as a surprise to anyone, our discussion slowly turned into a question on what constitutes art.

I am a strong believer in a very ambiguous definition and our red headed friend, who appeared to be abstaining from alcohol felt that only the philosophy of aesthetics could accurately tell us what makes art art.

FIRST: Let’s use Wikipedia as a base definition:

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.

SECOND: The Red Haired Fellow defined it (with the help of his smart phone and the internet):

A selective representation of reality. The only categories of art in this definition were: writing, painting, dance, music and architecture. This he defended was the “aesthetics perspective” on art. He clearly said that photography must not be allowed, because the camera was a machine and it captures a true moment in time, as opposed to a representation. Lastly, he pointed out that any product or object that had a utilitarian purpose beyond existing as art for its own sake was not art.

THIRD: The Schwartz definition of art:

Any attempt at recreating a thought or idea and manifesting it in reality.

While not as concise as the previous views of art, I think art is a much broader than either Wikipedia or The Mystery Man’s definition. Art could be a sketch on my notes in class, a poem about love, a blockbuster movie about Caribbean pirates or even the physical appearance of a car. They are all art. Even expressing your ideas is a kind of art, placing the words together relays a certain meaning and thought to other people around us.
Now here is the real question. If three sources – the internet, a man who relies on the internet, and a guy who trigger word happy vary on what we conceive of as art, then the entire world will also struggle to find a uniformly agreed upon definition. Not only are there huge cultural, language and knowledge barriers throughout the globe, but from person to person we are not likely to  have the same experiences with art and all the possible forms it comes in. That being said, it is vitally important for a creative and free society to embrace defining this word in order to protect art itself. I strongly believe that innovation is the key to a successful future, where no matter the issues we face, we can construct a solution through humanity.

Here is what I ask you dear reader, what is art and why is it important for us to define it?These are the critical questions that should be part of our educational system, because often times arts are neglected as a non-essential skill in the future, when it is crucial for the survival of our species as a whole.


One Response to “What is Art?”

  1. B July 6, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    We have basic survival needs (namely to eat, drink, and reproduce). Anything else is art. But even still, our tendency toward creativity in all aspects of our lives makes even the necessities artistic. This is (in part) a question of Aristotelian essence: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/michael_sandel_the_lost_art_of_democratic_debate.html

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