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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Artists Defining Art

Copyright, Jim Lane
A still-life self-portrait, Jim Lane
It is commonly believed by many that there is no universally accepted definition of art. That may, or may not be true, but the point is, there should be. We might say that art requires thought - some kind of creative impulse - but this raises more questions: for example, how much thought is required? If someone flings paint at a canvas, hoping by this action to create a work of art, does the result automatically constitute art? If you want to know what art is, perhaps the best recourse is to ask those who create art--artists themselves. However, keep in mind the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). That is to say, the best definition is the shortest, simplest, least sophisticated one. The longer the definition, the more complex and descriptive it becomes, and the harder it is to defend. Beware of any definition having the words "beauty" and "skill" in the same sentence. Both words beg many further words as to degree and aesthetic qualities, for which volumes and volumes have been written. That, in and of itself, makes any such definition of art worthless. In fact, beware of any art definition having more than ONE sentence.

A single subject, different definitions of art.
Having discussed and sung the praises of brevity in defining art, I should also mention its pitfalls. Any short, all-encompassing definition of art risks being so broad that, by implication, everything becomes art. Now, having outlined the parameters, as an artist, let me put forth my own, personal definition of art: Art is creative communication. Four words, demanding that art be useful, innovative, and broadly applicable to virtually any product of the human imagination. Notice my definition does not mention beauty. Not all that communicates creatively is beautiful. It does not mention the hundreds of helpful skills an artist can employ in producing art, nor does it try to quantify or qualify them. It does not differentiate between "good" art and "bad" art--that's a matter of aesthetics and personal tastes. Nor does it delve into the realm of morality by injecting the question of whose morality? Most importantly, my definition of art demands that art (and by implication, the artist) has something new to say and says it in a manner others can understand. If an art endeavor does not successfully communicate in a unique manner, then it is simply NOT art. The definition is broad, but not unlimited.

That's my definition. What do other artists have to say? You'll notice that some of the definitions below, while enlightening and thought-provoking, do not offer much practical guidance:

Picasso pretty much said
it first.

"Art is what you can get away with."
                                   --Andy Warhol.

Does he mean purchase, or accept?

"Art is whatever the public will buy."
                                --Pablo Picasso

Harsh, but probably valid.

"Art is either plagiarism or revolution."
                                       --Paul Gauguin.

Unless it's a forgery.

"Art is the signature of civilizations."
                --Jean Sibelius, composer.

Not so much anymore.

"Art is meant to disturb."
                               --Georges Braque.


"Art is vice. You don't marry it legitimately. You rape it."
                                    --Edgar Degas.

Picasso would agree.

"Art is childish and childlike."
                        --Damien Hirst, artist.

What about the king?

Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world."
                           --Leonardo da Vinci.

Yes, Charlie Brown.

"Art does not reproduce what is visible; it makes things visible."
                                     --Paul Klee, artist.

I get up to eat breakfast.

"Art is why I get up in the morning..."
                                   --Ani DiFranco.

There's that word "beautiful"
again. I guess architects
don't do ugly.

"Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use."
                              --Frank Lloyd Wright.

He ought to know.

"Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known."
                                     --Oscar Wilde.

Process over product.

"Art is not a thing; art is a way."
                                --Elbert Hubbard.

And finally, a classic example of a definition that is way too broad:

"Art is anything created, manipulated, or displayed by someone. So, by that logic, everything is art..."--unknown

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