Defining Art

How would you define 'art'? For many people art is a specific thing; a painting, sculpture or photograph, a dance, a poem or a play. It is all of these things, and more. They are mediums of artistic expression. Webster's New Collegiate dictionary defines art as the "conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects." Yet art is much more than a medium, or words on a page. It is the expression of our experience.

Joseph Brodsky hints at a definition of art in his poem New Life:

Ultimately, one's unbound
curiosity about these empty zones,
about these objectless vistas,
is what art seems to be all about.

Art is uniquely human and tied directly to culture. It takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. It asks questions about who we are, what we value, the meaning of beauty and the human condition. As an expressive medium it allows us to experience sublime joy, deep sorrow, confusion and clarity. It tests our strengths, vulnerabilities and resolve. It gives voice to ideas and feelings, connects us to the past, reflects the present and anticipates the future. Along these lines, art history, combined with anthropology and literature, are three main sources in observing, recording and interpreting our human past. Visual art is a rich and complex subject whose definition is in flux as the culture around it changes. Because of this, how we define art is in essence a question of agreement. In this respect, we can look again to the dictionary's definition for an understanding of exactly what to look for when we proclaim something as 'art.'


Source: Chris Gildow, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Last modified: Friday, June 14, 2019, 12:03 PM