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Although today the word art usually refers to the visual arts, the concept of what art is has continuously changed over centuries. Perhaps the most concise definition is its broadest—art refers to all creative human endeavors, excluding actions directly related to survival and reproduction. From a wide perspective, art is simply a generic term for any product of the creative impulse, out of which sprang all other human pursuits — such as science via alchemy, and religion via shamanism. The term art offers no true definition besides those based within the cultural, historical and geographical context in which it is applied.
Artists, deliberately or not, work under the influence of other artists of the past and present. Much of the development of individual artists deals with finding structured principles for how to express certain ideas through various kinds of symbolism. For example, Vasily Kandinsky famously developed his use of color in painting through a system of stimulus response, where over time he gained an understanding of the emotions that can be evoked by color and combinations of color. Contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy, on the other hand, chose to use the medium of found natural objects and materials to arrange temporary sculptures; the only record of these sculptures brought back to the world comes in the form of a modest photograph.
The word "art" derives from the Latin ars, which, loosely translated, means "arrangement" or "to arrange", though in many dictionaries you will simply find it tautologically translated as "art". This is the only universal definition of art, that whatever it is was at some point arranged in some way. A few examples where this meaning proves very broad include artifact, artificial, artifice, artillery, medical arts, and military arts. However, there are many other colloquial uses of the word, all with some relation to its etymological roots. Also interesting is the etymology of the word technique, from which many other current English words are derived. This word comes from the Greek techně meaning art. Thus in our culture we have two words that diverge as if to opposite ends of the spectrum unnaturally drawn between Art and Science, which are in fact share more or less the same meaning, and incorporate the idea of skill at some point.
It is often argued that what we term art is impossible to define, because standards for judging it are subjective. For example the work of painter Jackson Pollock appears to be the result of throwing and pouring of paint on a canvas, apparently without skill. (Pollock's skill as a painter in particular is not the point of discussion) and this (along with a thousand and one other examples) has led many to question the validity of much contemporary art (not that Pollock can be said to be contemporary of course; nevertheless his influence has been very great), when it seems to be something that any three-year-old could easily do. This may or may not be true, however we can at least say that there is often a consensus of agreement about what can be considered art. This consensus does not appear to be static over time, and could be seen as being similar to evolution's doctrine of survival of the fittest, where even very good ideas inevitably disappear and get ploughed under by history, while other ideas survive, sometimes by luck as well as their genuine usefulness.
There is often some confusion about the meaning of the term art. this is because multiple meanings of the word are often used interchangeably: often we mean painter, sometimes we mean singer for example.
Art is often seen as belonging to one class and excluding others. Art is seen as a high-status activity associated with wealth and the ability to purchase art and the leisure required to enjoy it. This has historically been true. One only has to briefly consider the palaces of Versailles or the Hermitage in St Petersberg with their vast collections of art, amassed by the fabulously wealthy royalty of Europe to bring this image vividly to life, and it is certainly true that collecting art is the preserve of the rich. However there is a very rich tradition of artists doing the opposite, and bringing their vision down to earth, and inhabiting a world of the everyday and even the poverty stricken. Just look at a Vincent Van Gogh painting.
The word art is also used to apply judgements of value, as in such expressions as "that meal was a work of art" (the cook is an artist) or "the art of deception", where we praise the highly attained level of skill of the deceiver, whoever it might be. It is this use of the word as a measure of high quality and high value that lends the term its flavour of subjectivity.
Many people's opinion of what art is falls inside a relatively small range of accepted standards. This derives from education and other social factors. Most people did not consider the depiction of a Brillo Box or a store-bought urinal to be art until Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp placed them in the context of art, i.e. the art gallery, which then provided the association of these objects with the values that define art. This, so called "institutional definition of art" was expressed by George Dickie in 1974. Indeed, most viewers of these objects initially rejected such associations, as the objects did not, themselves, meet the accepted criteria. It required that the objects be absorbed into the general consensus of what art is for them to achieve the near-universal acceptance as art they enjoy today. Once accepted and viewed with a fresh eye the smooth, white surfaces of Duchamp's urinal are strikingly similar to classical marble sculptural forms, whether the artist intended it or not. This type of recontextualizing provides the same spark of connection that we expect from any 'good' art.
Given the association of art with status, it is interesting to note that before the 13th century in Europe, artisans were considered as belonging to a lower caste, since they were essentially manual labourers. After Europe was re-exposed to Classical culture during the Renaissance, particularly in the nation states, (Florence, Siena), of what is now Italy, that artists gained their association with high status, though arrangements of 'fine' and expensive goods have always been used by institutions of power as marks of their own status. This can still be seen in the commissioning or purchasing of art by big businesses and corporations as decoration for their offices.
Definitions of art and aesthetic arguments usually proceed from one of several possible perspectives. Art may be defined by the intention of the artist as in the writings of Dewey. Art may be seen as being in the response/emotion of the viewer as Tolstoy claims. In Danto's view, it can be defined as a character of the item itself or as a function of an object's context. For Plato, art is imitation. Obviously, there is validity in each of these perspectives and any useful definition of art must, at minimum, address all these categories.
There is wide disagreement over what constitutes art, and there is no single definition that is widely agreed upon. A common view is that art requires a creative and unique perception of both the artist and audience. For example, a common contemporary criticism of some modern painting might be, 'my five-year old could have painted that' — implying that the work is somehow less worthy of the title art, either because the viewer fails to find meaning in the work, or because the work does not appear to have required any skill to produce. This view is often described as a lay critique and derives from the fact that in Western culture at least, art has traditionally been pushed in the direction of representationalism, the literal presentation of reality through literal images.
Art can connote a sense of trained ability or mastery of a medium. It can also simply refer to the developed and efficient use of a language so as to convey meaning, with immediacy and or depth. Making this judgment requires a basis for criticism: a way to determine whether the impact of the object on the senses meets the criteria to be considered art, whether it is perceived to be ugly or beautiful. Perception is always colored by experience, so a reaction to art as 'ugly' or 'beautiful' is necessarily subjective. Countless schools have each proposed their own ways to define quality, yet they all seem to agree in at least one point: once their aesthetic choices have been accepted, the value of the work of art is determined by its capacity to transcend the limits of its chosen medium in order to strike some universal chord (which, oddly enough, tends to be the most personal one).
Art also appeals to human emotions. It can arouse aesthetic or moral feelings, and can be understood as a way of communicating these feelings. Artists have to express themselves so that their public is aroused, but they do not have to do so consciously. Art explores both human emotions and ways to arouse them — and good art brings something new and original in either of these two respects.
Consider photography. Are photographs of un-posed 'real life' to be considered art? The common answer is overwhelmingly yes, even though many of these photographs simply seek to reproduce by machine what people can see with their own eyes. However, the reproduction is not neutral — a selection is being made by the artist. This is also one of the goals of found art: to recontextualize the art of everyday objects.
There are a variety of Arts, including visual arts and design, decorative arts, plastic arts, and the performing arts. Artistic expression takes many forms, painting, drawing, sculpture, music, literature, performance art and possibly architecture are the most widely recognised forms. However, since the advent of modernism and the technological revolution, new forms have emerged. These include film, photography, comics, video art, installation art, conceptual art, computer art, and, debatably, video games.
Within each form, a wide range of genres may exist. For instance, a painting may be a still life, a portrait, a landscape and may deal with historical or domestic subjects. In addition, a work of art may be representational or abstract.
There are many who ascribe to certain arts the quality of being non-utilitarian. This fits within the 'art as good' system of definitions and suffers from a class prejudice against labor and utility. Opponents of this view argue that all human activity has some utilitarian function, and these objects claimed to be 'non-utilitarian' actually have the rather mundane and banal utility of attempting to mystify and codify unworkable justifications for arbitrary social hierarchy.
The ‘use’ of art from the artist’s standpoint is as a means of expression. When art is conceived as a device, it serves several context and perspective specific functions. From the artist’s perspective it allows one to symbolize complex ideas and emotions in an arbitrary language subject only to the interpretation of the self and peers. In a social context, it can serve to soothe the soul and promote popular morale. From a more anthropological prospective, it is a way of passing ideas and concepts on to later generations in a (somewhat) universal language. The interpretation of this language is very dependent upon the observer’s perspective and context. From a subjective perspective, art has many uses dependent upon the state of the mind that asks the question “what utility might art have?”
See main article: Art history
Art was also studied by psychologists such as Freud and M. Klein.
For the Celtic mythological figure Art, see Art mac Cuinn; for the play, see Art (play).
Page Updated: Thu May 12 23:22:53 2005
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