What is Art?
Copyright 2003 by Nonjohn
Obviously, there are numerous definitions to the word "art." Foolish people will debate the question, "What is Art?" endlessly, seemingly forgetting that "art" is just a word. As a word, we can DEFINE it to mean anything we want it to mean. Thus, the disagreement does NOT exist because art is more clearly perceptible to some than others. The disagreement exists because different people want the word "art" to MEAN different things. This logical fallacy is common in many debates where people are arguing over questions that take the generic form of "What is 'X'?" -- where 'X' turns out merely to be a word that can be defined however we like. Consequently, I am under no illusion that my definition for "art" is in any way a universal definition. Nonetheless, I feel obliged to clarify what I mean when I say "art" or when I say that someone is an "artist." So here I go:
"Art" is any process, form of expression, or product from an expression that is taken to be an end in itself. Art doesn't necessarily have an external purpose, although it might. Art always provides an experience or the potential for an experience. Like art, the experience provided by art can be an end in itself and doesn't necessarily have an external purpose.
Art is not a black-or-white, either-or entity, but exists on a continuum. That is, there are degrees of art. Some entities are more "artistic" than others. However, the context in which art occurs can determine how "artistic" the art is. For example, a work by Picasso might not resonate at all with a highly sophisticated alien species from another world. However, in the context of 20th-century human beings, Picasso was "in the zone" and in touch with something that had a high degree of universality, at least at his point in time and space. Thus, the meaning or value that art is judged to have is subjective. Yet, given the similarities between human minds at a given point in time and space, it is possible to produce art that has a high degree of universality for a given population.
It is all too often that people who are potentially very expressive or creative are hesitant to call themselves "artists" because they are afraid of sounding pretentious. However, calling yourself an artist is not the same as claiming that the art you produce has universal appeal. Thus, I would encourage people not to hesitate in calling themselves artists. In terms of assessing the potential for universality in your art, it's always a good idea to ask someone other than your mother or close friends to be your critics. Since art can provide such a joyful experience, everyone should attempt to be artistic. Just remember: It's better to have produced mediocre art than no art at all! I don't have any pretensions that my art -- music, films, etc -- is universal, but for those who appreciate it, I am grateful.