What is Art?

What is Art?

Interactions between the elements and principles of art help artists to organize sensorially pleasing works of art while also giving viewers a framework within which to analyze and discuss aesthetic ideas.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the frameworks we can use to analyze and discuss works of art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The interplay between the principles and elements of art provide a language with which to discuss and analyze works of art.
  • The principles of art include: movement, unity, harmony, variety, balance, contrast , proportion and pattern.
  • The elements of art include: texture , form , space , shape, color, value and line .
  • How best to define the term art is a subject of constant contention.
  • Since conceptual art and postmodern theory came into prominence, it has been proven that anything can be termed art.

Key Terms

  • Formalism:The study of art by analyzing and comparing form and style—the way objects are made and their purely visual aspects.

What is Art?

Art is a highly diverse range of human activities engaged in creating visual, auditory, or performed artifacts— artworks—that express the author’s imaginative or technical skill, and are intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

The oldest documented forms of art are visual arts, which include images or objects in fields like painting, sculpture, printmaking , photography, and other visual media . Architecture is often included as one of the visual arts; however, like the decorative arts, it involves the creation of objects where the practical considerations of use are essential, in a way that they usually are not in another visual art, like a painting.

Art may be characterized in terms of mimesis (its representation of reality), expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities. Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed and has changed over time, general descriptions center on the idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency and creation. When it comes to visually identifying a work of art, there is no single set of values or aesthetic traits. A Baroque painting will not necessarily share much with a contemporary performance piece, but they are both considered art.

Despite the seemingly indefinable nature of art, there have always existed certain formal guidelines for its aesthetic judgment and analysis. Formalism is a concept in art theory in which an artwork’s artistic value is determined solely by its form, or how it is made. Formalism evaluates works on a purely visual level, considering medium and compositional elements as opposed to any reference to realism , context, or content.

Art is often examined through the interaction of the principles and elements of art. The principles of art include movement, unity, harmony, variety, balance, contrast, proportion and pattern. The elements include texture, form, space, shape, color, value and line. The various interactions between the elements and principles of art help artists to organize sensorially pleasing works of art while also giving viewers a framework within which to analyze and discuss aesthetic ideas.

This painting depicts a scene from the Bible in which Pontius Pilate displays Jesus Christ to the hostile crowd with the words, "Ecce homo!" ("Behold this man!").

Ecce Homo, Caravaggio, 1605: This is an example of a Baroque painting.

Bjӧrk, Mutual Core, 2011: This is an example of a contemporary performance piece.

What Does Art Do?

A fundamental purpose inherent to most artistic disciplines is the underlying intention to appeal to, and connect with, human emotion.

Learning Objectives

Examine the communication, utilitarian, aesthetic, therapeutic, and intellectual purposes of art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The decorative arts add aesthetic and design values to the objects we use every day, such as a glass or a chair.
  • Art therapy is a relatively young type of therapy that focuses on the therapeutic benefits of art-making, using different methods and theories.
  • Since the introduction of conceptual art and postmodern theory, it has been proven that anything can, in fact, be termed art.
  • It can be said that the fine arts represent an exploration of the human condition and the attempt at a deeper understanding of life.

Key Terms

  • human condition:The characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.
  • fine arts:Visual art created principally for its aesthetic value.
  • aesthetic:Concerned with artistic impact or appearance.

A fundamental purpose common to most art forms is the underlying intention to appeal to, and connect with, human emotion. However, the term is incredibly broad and is broken up into numerous sub-categories that lead to utilitarian , decorative, therapeutic, communicative, and intellectual ends. In its broadest form, art may be considered an exploration of the human condition, or a product of the human experience.

The decorative arts add aesthetic and design values to everyday objects, such as a glass or a chair, transforming them from a mere utilitarian object to something aesthetically beautiful. Entire schools of thought exist based on the concepts of design theory intended for the physical world.

A computer graphic of the famous chair designed by Marcel Breuer.

Bauhaus chair by Marcel Breuer: The decorative arts add aesthetic and design values to everyday objects.

Art can function therapeutically as well, an idea that is explored in art therapy. While definitions and practices vary, art therapy is generally understood as a form of therapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. It is a relatively young discipline, first introduced around the mid-20th century.

Historically, the fine arts were meant to appeal to the human intellect, though currently there are no true boundaries. Typically, fine art movements have reacted to each other both intellectually and aesthetically throughout the ages. With the introduction of conceptual art and postmodern theory, practically anything can be termed art. In general terms, the fine arts represent an exploration of the human condition and the attempt to experience a deeper understanding of life.

What Does Art Mean?

The meaning of art is shaped by the intentions of the artist as well as the feelings and ideas it engenders in the viewer.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the perspectives behind the meaning of art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The meaning of art is often shared among the members of a given society and dependent upon cultural context.
  • The nature of art has been described by philosopher Richard Wollheim as “one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture.”
  • Some purposes of art may be to express or communicate emotions and ideas, to explore and appreciate formal elements for their own sake, or to serve as representation.
  • Art, at its simplest, is a form of communication and means whatever it is intended to mean by the artist.

Key Terms

  • mimesis:The representation of aspects of the real world, especially human actions, in literature and art.

The meaning of art is often culturally specific, shared among the members of a given society and dependent upon cultural context. The purpose of works of art may be to communicate political, spiritual or philosophical ideas, to create a sense of beauty (see aesthetics), to explore the nature of perception, for pleasure, or to generate strong emotions. Its purpose may also be seemingly nonexistent.

The nature of art has been described by philosopher Richard Wollheim as “one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture.” It has been defined as a vehicle for the expression or communication of emotions and ideas, a means for exploring and appreciating formal elements for their own sake, and as mimesis or representation. More recently, thinkers influenced by Martin Heidegger have interpreted art as the means by which a community develops for itself a medium for self-expression and interpretation.

image

Helen Frankenthaler, 1956: A photograph of the American artist Helen Frankenthaler in her studio in 1956.

Art, in its broadest sense, is a form of communication. It means whatever the artist intends it to mean, and this meaning is shaped by the materials, techniques, and forms it makes use of, as well as the ideas and feelings it creates in its viewers . Art is an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations.

What Makes Art Beautiful?

Beauty in terms of art refers to an interaction between line, color, texture, sound, shape, motion, and size that is pleasing to the senses.

Learning Objectives

Define “aesthetics” and “beauty” as they relate to art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Beauty in art can be difficult to put into words due to a seeming lack of accurate language.
  • An aesthetic judgment cannot be an empirical judgment but must instead be processed on a more intuitive level.
  • Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and appreciation of art, beauty, and taste. Aesthetics is central to any exploration of art.
  • For Immanuel Kant, the aesthetic experience of beauty is a judgment of a subjective, but common, human truth.
  • For Arthur Schopenhauer, aesthetic contemplation of beauty is the freest and most pure and truthful that intellect can be, and is therefore beautiful.
  • Art is often intended to appeal to, and connect with, human emotion.

Key Terms

  • aesthetics:The branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, taste, and the creation and appreciation of beauty.
  • intuitive:Spontaneous, without requiring conscious thought; easily understood or grasped by instinct.

What makes art beautiful is a complicated concept, since beauty is subjective and can change based on context. However, there is a basic human instinct, or internal appreciation, for harmony, balance, and rhythm which can be defined as beauty. Beauty in terms of art usually refers to an interaction between line, color, texture , sound, shape, motion, and size that is pleasing to the senses.

Aesthetic Art

Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and appreciation of art, beauty, and taste. Aesthetics is central to any exploration of art. The word “aesthetic” is derived from the Greek “aisthetikos,” meaning “esthetic, sensitive, or sentient. ” In practice, aesthetic judgment refers to the sensory contemplation or appreciation of an object (not necessarily a work of art), while artistic judgment refers to the recognition, appreciation, or criticism of a work of art.

Numerous philosophers have attempted to tackle the concept of beauty and art. For Immanuel Kant, the aesthetic experience of beauty is a judgment of a subjective, but common, human truth. He argued that all people should agree that a rose is beautiful if it indeed is. There are many common conceptions of beauty; for example, Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel are widely recognized as beautiful works of art. However, Kant believes beauty cannot be reduced to any basic set of characteristics or features.

For Arthur Schopenhauer, aesthetic contemplation of beauty is the freest and most pure that intellect can be. He believes that only in terms of aesthetics do we contemplate perfection of form without any kind of worldly agenda.

A fresco painting that illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God breathes life into Adam, the first man.

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, The Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512:

Beauty in art can be difficult to put into words due to a seeming lack of accurate language. An aesthetic judgment cannot be an empirical judgment but must instead be processed on a more intuitive level.

Art and Human Emotion

Sometimes beauty is not the artist’s ultimate goal. Art is often intended to appeal to, and connect with, human emotion. Artists may express something so that their audience is stimulated in some way—creating feelings, religious faith, curiosity, interest, identification with a group, memories, thoughts, or creativity. For example, performance art often does not aim to please the audience but instead evokes feelings, reactions, conversations, or questions from the viewer . In these cases, aesthetics may be an irrelevant measure of “beautiful” art.

Who Is an Artist?

An artist is a person who is involved in the wide range of activities that are related to creating art.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the evolution of the term “artist” and its predecessors

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In ancient Greece and Rome there was no word for “artist,” but there were nine muses who oversaw a different field of human creation related to music and poetry, with no muse for visual arts.
  • During the Middle Ages , the word “artista” referred to something resembling “craftsman.”
  • The first division into major and minor arts dates back to the 1400s with the work of Leon Battista Alberti.
  • The European Academies of the 16th century formally solidified the gap between the fine and the applied arts which exists in varying degrees to this day.
  • Currently an artist can be defined as anyone who calls him/herself an artist.

Key Terms

  • muses:Goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science, and the arts in Greek mythology.
  • Pop art:An art movement that emerged in the 1950s that presented a challenge to traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular culture such as advertising and news.
  • fine arts:The purely aesthetic arts, such as music, painting, and poetry, as opposed to industrial or functional arts such as engineering or carpentry.

An artist is a person who is involved in the wide range of activities that are related to creating art. The word has transformed over time and context, but the modern understanding of the term denotes that, ultimately, an artist is anyone who calls him/herself an artist.

In ancient Greece and Rome, there was no word for “artist.” The Greek word “techne” is the closest that exists to “art” and means “mastery of any art or craft.” From the Latin “tecnicus” derives the English words “technique,” “technology,” and “technical.” From these words we can denote the ancient standard of equating art with manual labor or craft.

Each of the nine muses of ancient Greece oversaw a different field of human creation. The creation of poetry and music was considered to be divinely inspired and was therefore held in high esteem. However, there was no muse identified with the painting and sculpture; ancient Greek culture held these art forms in low social regard, considering work of this sort to be more along the lines of manual labor.

During the Middle Ages, the word “artista” referred to something resembling “craftsman,” or student of the arts. The first division into “major” and “minor” arts dates back to the 1400s with the work of Leon Battista Alberti, which focused on the importance of the intellectual skills of the artist rather than the manual skills of a craftsman. The European academies of the 16th century formally solidified the gap between the fine and the applied arts, which exists in varying degrees to this day. Generally speaking, the applied arts apply design and aesthetics to objects of everyday use, while the fine arts serve as intellectual stimulation.

Currently, the term “artist” typically refers to anyone who is engaged in an activity that is deemed to be an art form. However, the questions of what is art and who is an artist are not easily answered. The idea of defining art today is far more difficult than it has ever been. After the exhibition during the Pop Art movement of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box and Campbell’s Soup Cans, the questions of “what is art?” and “who is an artist?” entered a more conceptual realm. Anything can, in fact, be art, and the term remains constantly evolving.

Work of art that consists of thirty-two canvases. Each depicts of a painting of a Campbell's Soup can—one of each of the canned soup varieties the company offered at the time.

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962: Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans have come to be representative of the Pop Art movement.