What is Art, with a capital A?

As a student of art, we all meditate on the empirical question, “What is Art?” The social conscious conglomerate that is Wikipedia states that, “Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.”  However, art solely created as the creator’s attempt to share, or convey experience can lead to shallow superficial artwork portraying perception rather than truth. Although this may be a noble motivation behind a creator’s drive to create, when it is the sole intent it becomes nothing more then an act of voyeurism.

Some say that Art is a conversation, or that Art is a progression. But, Art as a conversation implies that there is a response. And as the large majority of art functions as personal experience or as an aftermath to previous styles, I think it idealistic to call art a conversation. Conversations are two sided. They involve give and take while a one sided conversation is naught but a lecture.

Art as a progression is a nice idea too, but it implies linearity. Art can and is affected by not only other styles and mediums, but also by culture, social and political events,  and environment. Certainly Art as a progressive conversation is great idea: A noble intellectual endeavor fit for review by the critiques and art historians versed in the academics and histories of the subject, but is it appropriate for the hobbits, the consumer or the average man/woman? A visual metaphor  describing art as a “… a spiral staircase that circles back on itself hopefully rising higher with each progressive loop.” by poet Christine O’Leary-Rockey, is a beautiful and optimistic outlook on the advancement of art or art as a progression. But yet again, I am not sure that this analogy begins to contain the whole body of that elusive thing we call art. No, Art is something more elusive then these catchy phrases, these idioms of intellectual.  Perhaps Art is no more quantifiable or more definable then Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 opinion pornography, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

So, regardless of having just said that Art is undefinable, I still spend much of my day and night meditating on this not so simple question, “What is Art?” And I image (and hope) that I will be meditating this question 50 years from now. My immediate thoughts on this slippery slope of a definition is currently based in my experiences in the academic profession. Years of research, of translation and presentation of artistic concepts and techniques to students, combined with evaluation and the ever difficult conveyance of why this works and this doesn’t, have influenced my ideas significantly.

Reading countless textbooks books on photography, graphic design, art history and the various software applications, all while attempting to translate (in such as way as to accommodate a variety or learning styles be accessible) concepts, vocabulary, and technical jargon to new initiates, certainly makes you contemplate the definition of this thing we call Art. The endless review of student’s work for quality and concept in an attempt to help them develop marketable skills, in conjunction with the review and evaluation of your own creative endeavors leads one to seriously consider craftsmanship as one of the prominent tenements of Art.  I now think that art, fine art, “Art” with a capital A is that which embodies 3 principles.

  1. Concept
  2. Craftsmanship
  3. and Innovation

Concept is a progression conversation in art. Regardless of intent, all we see and do is informed by experience. Therefor Concept will always contain some form of reference or relationship to previous of current styles.

Craftsmanship determines longevity, and longevity determines Art History. Without craftsmanship a piece will not survive long enough to be evaluated in the context of the long-term conversation that is art history. Craftsmanship is also what separates Fine Art from Low Brow Art. (But this is a whole other subject.)

The third component to my definition of “What is Art”, Innovation may be applied to technique, or concept. It may be applied to a new way of seeing, conveying emotion, or creating awe.  Sometime the application of an innovative technique creates concept and sometimes the converse is true; regardless the depiction of a concept necessitates innovation.

Regardless of order of combination, it is these 3 factors: Concept, Craftsmanship, and Innovation which I now believe are the key components in answer to the question “What is Art?”


One Comment

  1. · December 30, 2011 1:29 am · Permalink

    I found this article link at a discussion group at LinkedIn, about craft art vs. fine art. The long discussion has been inconclusive. Many of the comments show little or no understanding of what art is or who is an artist.

    The funny thing is: artists know who they are and what art is. We are born with and develop our skills from a young age. Our senses are more acute. Many of us come from families of artists. We recognize literary arts, performance arts, musical arts, visual arts, and concept arts. We also recognize degrees of skill and who is able to fulfill expectations. Not every artist is up to designing a Parthenon, painting a Sistine Chapel, sculpting a David, writing an Iliad, composing a Four Seasons, or producing a Cinema.

    I have concluded that much of the high minded discussion is done by non artists. Most of the concepts are nothing more than brain candy. None of it is relevant to art as an industry. To assail art as an industry is more of the high minded rhetoric that is generally of no consequence. Every man-made object is, in some way, fashioned by artists.

    Many decades ago, in an art history text I found this quote: “An artist brings three abilities to his (or her) craft. Intellect, inspiration, and skill. I see this to be synonymous to your articles: concept, innovation, and craftsmanship.
    It seems that we share your conclusion to a greater degree. Your comment at the discussion was one of the better ones. Thanks.

    “God’s greatest creation is the hand that obeys the intellect.” ~ Michelangelo

One Trackback

  1. By Art vs. Craft · Erin Sparler on December 30, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    […] “Oh boy did you open a can of worms with this question. I had an entire semester devoted to trying to answer this question in Grad School. To begin you have to define what art is and then you have to define what craft is.  Here is my evolving definition of What is Art with with a Capital A. […]

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