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What is Art?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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In today’s society, it is very difficult to give an exact definition of the word art. It has come to mean many things to many people. What is art to one person may not be considered so by another. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is art.

In art schools, the main bulk of teaching is in the fields of fine arts, painting and craftwork. Students are advised to be experimental in their work and to bring something new and original to the field. This type of originality is a problem for some people when defining the concept of art.

Every artist strives to be original, to conceive something that has never been seen before. This originality confuses some people. When the artist Jackson Pollock brought his abstract paintings to the world, some people did not understand them at all, and many still don't.

Some artists try to show their lives through their work. British artist Tracey Emin is famous for including pieces of her life in her work. One of her art pieces consisted of her unmade bed and its bedroom surroundings on display for the world to view. Some people did not consider this art, but simply the artist's bed.

The reason some people do not understand some modern art is simply a matter of perception. They may find new works confusing because there is nothing to compare them with. They are new and fresh and have never been seen before, so what can you compare them to? This is what brings out some confusion in original artworks, just as it did when Jackson Pollock’s abstracts were first shown.

Art can take many forms. Sculptures, paintings, cinema films, writing and the human body can all be viewed works of art. The price tag that is put on these items may not be relative to the amount of work that has gone into them, but rather to the originality that they present.

Provocative, daring and shocking artworks are sometimes made to gain a reaction. This reaction may be different in each person, but the main purpose of such art is to inspire people to talk and think. The first person who saw Tracey Emin's bed may have hated it, but he or she might have been talking about it all day. This may have been simply because the person did not understand the concept, as he or she had nothing to compare it with.

Artists are usually people who try to get others to see things in a different way, to get a different point of view across. Throughout history, many artist’s works have been banned and destroyed by governments for exactly that reason. Art does not have to be all suffering in a garret for one's creations, but if art is saying nothing new, is there a point to it?

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Discussion Comments
By anon84656 — On May 17, 2010

It's interesting that your article is stuck on the confusing modern definition of art. Considering the fact that creativity takes off within limitations, it makes sense that the lack of limitations constitutes the promotion of mediocrity.

However, originality is not the focus of art. The reactions of the viewer is also not essential.

Art is the act of creation, not limited to a medium, but expressed through one. The goal of art and the artist, is self expression; the processing of life experiences into concentrated forms that allow a viewer to go through an emotionally charged experience which 'might' be similar as the artist.

Last point: the greatest disservice that ever happened to art was the formulation of Post Modernism. Everything is acceptable, nothing is wrong, there is no right way to do things, no tradition to grow from and nothing to rebel against. The artist is the agitator. if there's nothing to push against, then mediocrity is all we have, which leads to decadence and eventually artistic dark ages.

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