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What is Art?

Blake's thoughts on the Matter


I often come across internet forums and people in general discussing the definition of art. It seems that these people tend to fall into two camps. On the one hand, you have people who thinks that anything that the artist defines as art is art. Artists in this camp—like Marcel Duchamp with his urinals that he found, did not build and claimed were art—seem to think that the art is special because the artist is special. And because the artist, with his or her special eye, thinks it is special it becomes so. In their definition, art is a sort title—like a knighthood, bestowed by the royal artist.


The second camp of people in this argument believe that the “specialness” does not come from the artist but from the virtue of the work itself. Just like with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and its undeniable beauty, this school of thought holds that there must be some objective quality within the work, which makes it significant. This can be intricacy, aesthetic, message, perspective, etc... In this definition, art is a standard that artists strive to reach through their created artifacts (paintings, books, movies, etc...). If you make a creative work good enough, in other words, it becomes art.

I see a piece of truth in each of these philosophies. A urinal, just like a hand-painted chapel, can potentially evoke a response from its audience and perform the same artistic function as the chapel in every sense of the word, depending upon the individual viewing the piece. However, I can't deny that there are works, such as the chapel, which are objectively better and closer to “art” than a urinal could ever be. However, they both create more questions than answers to the question of what art is.

If the first school of thought is correct, can any given thing become art no matter how ridiculous? And if the second, does this mean that a urinal bought at a home improvement store reaches the same standard? Are beautiful and touching artifacts created by people who are not artists or by nature, art? And if you craft the most beautiful and touching painting ever created, and then burn it before anyone can see, was it art any more than the novel that remained locked inside someone's head until they died, never written?


The problem with both schools of thought is that they cannot be measured or proven, and require not only a belief in the idea of “specialness” in either the artist or the work, but also that there is a cosmic or universally agreed standard for what defines art and an artist.

Specialness cannot explain why a corporation driven by profit or an artist driven by a Pope's blackmail, can create art that changes people's lives for the better and inspires them to live as many do. I've done enough research on certain influential and undeniably beautiful novels to know that they were not written by any single author but by greedy publishing companies who knew that creating something so beautiful would make them money; and if you don't think that at least some of your favorite shows and movies were created for that reason alone, you're fooling yourself.

Specialness cannot explain any better why two people of similar background and education can see the same piece of art, with one person's life being changed while the other one remains bored with it. There is an objective quality, and one which neither person can deny, but which serves as true and sacred “art” to one person, while being but a simple artifact to another.

I think that while there is a touch of truth in both of these philosophies, art is the moment when a piece of universal human experience, which has been illustrated into an artifact, is witnessed by an audience—no matter how small—and creates an effect within them. If you wrote a story that only one other person bothered to read, but it spoke to them in some intimate way, you have created art. Art is an event that occurs when audience and artifact meet; and if you create your art with attention to detail, quality, and clarity to your audience, the event will have even more power in its purpose. And every improvement and investment into the quality of your work will make it more “art” than it was before.

Ultimately, I think that art is not the artist nor the artifact—as wonderful, beautiful, and essential to the art as these elements may be. Art is what happens when the artifact, so intricately created by the artist, is encountered by another person—giving them a new perspective or causing them to feel something that they did not before. It is not an object, it is not a quality, it is not a label; it is an experience. The experience can be used to inspire people, to share with them, to entertain them, or even to harm them, but it is an experience all the same. It can be high in quality or low in quality, but when your work stirs thoughts or emotions within another person, you have created art.  

  • Listening to: Pat the Bunny
  • Reading: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
  • Watching: Daredevil Season 2
  • Playing: Block and Load
  • Eating: a Tangering
  • Drinking: Coffee ... this will never change.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconmakingfunofstuff:
There are two valid ways of judging art, but they're independent methods and don't cancel each other out.

One is about looking at art for ITSELF. You try to see the creator's intention and how well that is accomplished in the piece (and how worthy that intention was in the first place). Objective conclusions can be drawn about the quality in these cases (or at least, we can reach for them).

The other is more about how it speaks to the viewer PERSONALLY. If I like a painting of the woods better than the lake, and it's because it reminds me of the woods in my childhood, I'm not making a judgment on the piece as much as something already inside myself. The opinion may not match up with the paintings objective worth, and this can be admitted without my liking it any less (or more).

In the first case, I would say a urinal is less beautiful, because of what it was made for.
A movie is different, although its purpose is largely to make money, unlike a urinal, the purpose is to make money by being something entertaining or "beautiful," and should be judged by how that is accomplished.

Something not originally created as art might become viewed as art over time, but that comes of being held to new standards, not because there are none.

I think when people argue that nothing is objective, they are mainly thinking of art as something that brings out what is inside themselves already (like in the second definition), and that is a bit close minded in its own way.

It's the difference between preferences and fact. They do exist at the same time, but the "subjective" preferences are always what we rush to give weight to without looking at a piece for what we can learn from IT. What a loss to write off Michelangelo because you think he's too pink! 
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:iconthewarofthering:
Ultimately, I think art is subjective, and that no one person can define what art means to someone else. We all have our own definition for art, and we can't apply any overarching definition for everyone's view on the matter. Or maybe I just say that because I can't be bothered to come up with a definition? Either way, interesting piece :)
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2016  Professional Writer
Thank you :) And I hope that when I finish taking into account reader feedback on this journal and then redraft it to make it clearer, I can be more clear about the place of subjectivity in the matter. Subjectivity is part of the concept, but one I did not communicate efficiently. Fortunately, people have made me aware of this and I can fix it :)
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:icondeisophia:
DeiSophia Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Excuse the brevity of this reply... But is it not intriguing artefact contains the word art... I wonder if there is a link in their etymology.
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Edited Apr 3, 2016  Professional Writer
There is :) I'm glad you brought that up--I'll post a link to the etymology below. 

I particularly like the translation that comes out "thing made" (factum) with "by skill" (arte). 

www.etymonline.com/index.php?a…
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:icondeisophia:
DeiSophia Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Art is things made by skill...?

That does work quite nicely :)
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:icondogman0:
dogman0 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Hobbyist Filmographer
ok, when I first read the title of this journal, I thought.
Music What is Art?Music
Blake, do not hurt me...
don't hurt me...no more...Music

But I agree with the both sides have a point and yet they are flawed.
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2016  Professional Writer
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. That was great
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:icondogman0:
dogman0 Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2016  Hobbyist Filmographer
Well, glad you liked my joke. Though, to be honest, you set yourself up for that.  lol
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2016  Professional Writer
I suppose I did. Went bak and listened to the song just for the heck of it. 
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:iconbehxmoth:
behxmoth Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I was gonna write a lengthy answer, but I misjudged my stamina. Just condensed points:
1. I don't like Michelangelo's chapel; even though his technical prowess is undeniable, I find the piece too pink, puffy, and generally ruined by misguided admiration. I don't like the urinal either, though I am on the fence of whether Duchamp helped understand art better. So no objective superiority for me, not even in that "obvious" comparison
.
2. The assertion that art is an experience would nuke both camps of thought from the article, and abstract the already pretty ethereal concept of art even further. I myself am for that, but it I feel like art as experience should be a parent class of art, while art as work and art as artist's vision should become more defined subclasses of that.

There's value in expanding the definition, and value in having a clear, palpable description. I think this would do both, and the discourse will become richer for it.
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Professional Writer
1. Your point is valid, but do you agree that there is art which is more effective at its purpose than others, which I perhaps clumsily defined as "objectively better"? My point, regardless was more that there is art which is undeniably more effective in creating the experience I'm defining as art than others.

2. You're correct in that my definition of art does make it more personal and non quantifiable than the other definitions. My failure to address that point in the essay is a result of the same writer blindness that makes having critics and feedback so essential to novels. The point does, however, fit into my definition of art as it takes the subjectivity of art into account within the definition of experience. I'll explain this better when I write the second draft of the essay and have had time to sit down and think it through so it's more clear.

I appreciate your respectfully worded criticism.
Reply
:iconbehxmoth:
behxmoth Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
1. I wanna say yes, but then I wanna say no :3 There's just something in me that pushes very hard against the idea of undeniability, which is still objectivity's little sister. I fear that if even one aspect of art, or one thing in the world even, is deemed objective, the whole world becomes objective, and in this, rigid and lifeless. And in judging something, rating it against something else feels like a shortcut to me, a simplification that might let something important slip.

2. Non quantifiable and personal is perfectly fine, what I meant was if we shift our focus onto experience, the creator and the work become much less defined. For example, a well-performed massage might be a pretty intense experience; we are not used to seeing massage as art, nor massagers as artists, but the experience might be comparable to listening to your favorite song. Let me get another example so that you don't think I'm joking: a person is wailing loudly, expressing a range of emotions that evoke strong feelings in listeners; if it's on a stage of a theater, it's art; if it's on a track by an avant-garde band, it's art; if it's on a street in the night, nobody cares and they call the police, though a specific listener might find the latter natural performance artful.

That's the conundrum as I see it: if we go expanding the term "art" without quantifiers we might never stop, and too abstract a term is useless in most cases; that's not to say your assertion is useless, I find it quite interesting. So I suggest we don't quantify the scope of art directly, but divide art itself into more defined groups: aesthetic art, concerned with perfection and such; egocentric art, focusing on the creativity of an individual; and experientialwhich I'd also call spiritual—art, that maintains experience is the key, the head, and the thing that matters most.

To be clear, I'm not insisting on either terms or categories, just suggesting that the main reason that the two camps can never find common ground is that they are talking of different concepts, only partly related, which I think should be settled by the almighty Ms. Language.

And while I have you here, can you please tell me, do I explain myself clearly? I'm not a native speaker is why I ask.
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2016  Professional Writer
I see your perspective; and while I have my own different perspective on lots of these topics, I think you've got some good points--especially from the worldview you're coming from. And you are absolutely right in that this is really a question of linguistics. Ultimately, it is up to each individual and the world as a whole to define what they think the word "art" signifies, and then break it up into subcategories or diverging philosophies. These are simply my thoughts on what would be a useful definition, given so much subjectivity in the topic. 

You definitely explain yourself clearly, I actually was not aware that English was not your first language. At no point did I feel like I didn't understand you ... which is pretty impressive. And again, I do appreciate your feedback. 
Reply
:iconbehxmoth:
behxmoth Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm glad to hear I write coherently. Thanks for a chance to think and talk about art, a moment of rest from trying to create art :3

Also, thanks a lot for your writing tips, they are superb!
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:iconyakunobu:
Yakunobu Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016
It is interesting to me that you define art as an experience and not an expression.  Essentially you deny "private art."  Would you not say an artist can be his/her own audience if the witnessing of the completed piece creates a unique experience for him/her?  I have often found that the process of creating an art piece can lead to a form of self-discovery.  I would argue that many artists create with that intention.  If not, what would you call this phenomenon if not art?
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Professional Writer
Perhaps, in a sense, private art can be so to some degree if the artist becomes the audience, and I don't deny the personal value of expression. Also, remember that we're talking linguistics, and what definition that each person considers best. Ultimately, I'm trying to discover a definition that is most useful, not a definition that assigns value to an artist's craft. Words and deffinitions are subjective and only carry as much meaning as the communicators manage to convey, so there is no definitive answer only discussion until agreement or understanding is reached.

But for me, the question of private art comes back to the questions of whether a novel that is never given physical form or ever read and encountered is art.

According to the idea that I am exploring (not trying to impose on others, remember this is just a log of my thoughts on the topic) the artist's motivations are irrelevant. If they create or present an artifact that creates the experience of art, it is art. If there is no encounter or experience that comes from the artifact, it remains only that. Once again, you can justifiably argue that the artist may then encounter the artifact that they created and experience the art, but that is a different if very related topic.

Thank you for the question though, it is extremely valid and I appreciate your asking and perhaps even disagreeing politely.
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:iconyakunobu:
Yakunobu Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2016
Also, in terms of linguistics, I think it's important to draw a distinction between literature and art.  I'm not trying to say a novel cannot be called art, but I believe literature is more (perhaps exclusively) dependant on a separate audience to achieve value than art.
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2016  Professional Writer
Why do you think there is a difference?
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:iconyakunobu:
Yakunobu Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2016
Between art and literature or between the degree of dependence on an audience?
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2016  Professional Writer
Between art and literature. 
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:iconyakunobu:
Yakunobu Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2016
Yes, I certainly agree that a physical manifestation should be required in order to achieve the classification of "art."  Ideas have no value until action is taken.  I believe that strongly.  I also agree that, alone, an artist is not qualified to assign value.  However, an artist can also act as audience, and value can be given then.  I will concede that the larger the audience, the greater the value, but you even claim that an audience of one is acceptable.  I believe that given an artist's ability to distance him/herself from the piece enough to avoid a masturbatory attitude in regards to the piece, we cannot deny the artist the right to evaluate the value of his/her own work.  After all, it would fall under fallacy ad hominem to not separate the artist from the piece.
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Edited Mar 31, 2016  Professional Writer
Well I think the point is justifiably arguable. On the other hand what is the difference between a painting that someone imagines and enjoys as an audience strictly from their imagination, and never gives it form, and a painting they give form and never show? It's a sort of tree in the forest argument, and if one is just just trying to argue a point for argument sake they can. But I see very little difference between the two.

However, as even in my definition art is a subjective experience, it is up to the person experiencing the work, artist or not, to decide whether the artistic experience is happening. So there's not much point is debating it from an outsider perspective. Except that perhaps the wording in my definition needs to be changed from "another person" to "a person".
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:iconnightwingsurge:
NightWingSurge Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
That was beautiful man :sniff:
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Professional Writer
Thank you :) that makes me happy to hear
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:iconsuperiorstory:
SuperiorStory Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Professional Writer
I really enjoyed this. It was an insightful and logical approach to this abstract idea. I really like your definition more than most.
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:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2016  Professional Writer
Thank you :) I'm glad for your positive feedback
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March 29, 2016
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