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What is Art?

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Go on, you know you wanna. . .

From the Dictionary. . .


Human creativity; skill acquired by study and experience; any craft and its principles; the making of things that have form and beauty; any branch of this, as painting, sculpture, etc; drawings, paintings, statues, etc; (pl) the creative and non-scientific branches of knowledge, esp as studied academically.


A belief that is not based on proof; judgment; estimation, evaluation; a formal expert judgment; professional advice.

What You Said. . .

Art is a colour, it's a hundred colours, it's a blank canvas, it's a breathtaking view, it's the sunlight dancing on the water, it's brushes waiting to be used, it's watching, listening, recording (in our heads, on tape or in our imagination), it's a row of lettuce growing in an allotment, it's cars in a show room, it's flowers in every state of growth, it’s my children...unique!

Art is life. It is what you make of it. It is what you do with it that makes it what it is...


What niggles me about ideas surrounding a definition of the word is that so often people believe that they have the ultimate definition, and that means that they can then decide what is and isn’t art, which inevitably enables them to place one work above another in terms of validity. This leads to the snobbery that the art world is so well known for and that so often keeps talented newcomers in the shadows. This treatment of works that are considered not worthy of the name ‘art’ also tends to lead people to dismiss them without actually looking long enough to consider how the piece is communicating, which means we then have a limited understanding of the visual media around us and a limited repertoire in our own work.

(Here comes the science bit)

The word ‘art’ represents a concept. Weather you speak it or write it the word itself only has meaning because people have learned throughout their lives to associate a concept, or an idea in their heads, with the word. It is the person on the receiving end of the word that creates the meaning. If I write the word ‘negulim’, it doesn’t matter if it is the most important word in the world to me with a deep and profound meaning, if you don’t have an understanding of it, it is meaningless as soon as it leaves my lips, or is typed on the page. The same can be said of any word or indeed anything that represents anything else, such as a picture or a symbol. Academics would call the word a ‘signifier’ – the word ‘art’ signifies a concept of ‘art’ that we have in our heads and that we have learned. So by its very nature this ‘signifier’ is going to mean something different to each and every one of us because we all have lived different lives and have learned slightly different meanings. Its meaning will also vary between social groups – for example academics and the popular press will have very different ideas on what is and isn’t ‘art’. The meaning of any word will also be fluid – constantly changing. This fluidity takes place not only in the history of society but also in the history of an individual’s life. You might have a very different idea of what ‘art’ means now to the idea you had ten years ago.

So – given all of the above, what makes anyone think that their definition is more valid than anyone else’s? All definitions of the word are equally valid.

(No you can't go to sleep yet - I haven't finished!)

All works of ‘art’ are also equally valid. One thing that I think all work of art is, is a communication – from the artist to the viewer of the work (this is not an actual definition of the word). Even if no one but the artist ever sees the work it is still a communication from themselves to themselves – like reading a letter you wrote to yourself. (I have yet to meet someone who makes a work of ‘art’, and throws it away without looking at it at all.) And the meaning of the actual work is often different to the meaning we intended when we set about making the work. And as with the meaning of the word ‘art’ itself, a picture only takes on a meaning because of the way the person looking at it interprets it (which depends entirely on their own life experiences). Someone educated in art school might marvel at a modernist work. Someone who has never been to an art gallery or read a book might think it similar to a child’s scribble. It is the person looking at the work that ultimately gives it its meaning.

So – given this, even if you can define the word, how then can you decide if a work or ‘art’ fits into your definition or not? You can only decide if it is worthy in your own eyes. You cannot decide for everyone else because everyone else will ‘read’ the piece of work in a very different way to you and will be able to understand a piece of art in ways that you cannot possibly understand because you simply don’t have their experiences – however educated and clever you are.

I am not saying that it is pointless to try to define the word, not at all.  The paradox is that we have to have some kind of shared understanding of a word’s meaning otherwise communication via words can’t go two ways (which would make a conversation somewhat short) so a debate on this is good. But – I do think that artists ought to have some kind of understanding of the nature of media/art/communication as this is, after all, our craft.

So – “art” can mean or be anything you want it to mean, and ultimately it will mean or be anything you want it to mean or be. No one work is more valid than any other. In my own eyes I have an idea of what I think is good art and bad art. I have an idea of what I like and what I don’t. But these are just my ideas, and I don’t expect anyone else to share them, and I don’t try to encourage anyone else to share them (although I do sometimes attempt to explain them to others) because to do so would be to ignore and invalidate other people’s individuality.


Art appears to me to be an attempt by the creator to express thoughts or feelings through tangible medium. Whether born through political opinions, pain, anger etc the artist uses their work as an outlet or statement by transferring what is almost exclusively an intangible emotion into a visual medium to reach an audience.

In some modern/contemporary art I believe this aim of expressing ones innermost thoughts has been lost and given way to simply provoking reaction (often to a political end). To my mind this is exploiting the audiences insecurity and the medium (not unlike the mass media) and devalues the intimate nature of art.  

I do however believe that in many cases, what the creator is trying to express is lost in the medium through interpretation and the audience construct their own emotion and conclusion not intended by the artist.

In conclusion, the paint brush is the artist’s tool of expression, the equivalent of a poet’s pen, a politicians words or a musician’s music.


You know something’s art when it evokes emotion from within, and it can surprise us all… I have tried to sit and stare at some pieces of ‘art’ waiting for it to ‘hit’ me – but accept that what excites me may not excite the next, so move on and search for something that does bring you alive.


Art is only art when someone says it’s art.


No matter how small or large, how colourful or bland, if someone likes the piece and calls it art, it is in fact art.


Anything that pleases someone aesthetically, and could include various mediums, from literature and poetry, to painting and sculpture.


Art is like God, a three letter word that means different things to different people.


Art is to be able to replicate what you see in front of you.


I neither know nor care what ‘art’ is – I just know what I like.


Art is over analysed and pretentious but its something that should be natural and free with no limits and touches everybody in its own way.


Something that is aesthetically pleasing to the individual.


Art is anything that is primarily not functional, but is pleasing to the senses.


Art is merely an individual’s interpretation of their senses and emotions presented through differing mediums.


I think art can be anything which is produced through human creativity – drawings, paintings, photography, ceramics, jewellery, writing etc. It is a great way for people of all ages, abilities, cultures etc to express themselves.


Art is a 19th Century Eurocentric concept which is often mis-applied to imagery from outside of this culture. Art can encompass anything which the Artist claims is 'art' - i.e. Artists now use art to shock or to produce political messages as well as to reproduce pleasant imagery or sculptures etc. for others' pleasure. The concept of 'Art' should not applied to all imagery. For example, it is not appropriate to call prehistoric imagery 'art' as the concept of 'art' as we know it, didn't exist 1000 and more years ago and there were likely to be other, possibly practical reasons for the production of these remaining images. It is a mistake to apply the concept of art within its current context to other cultures both in the present and throughout history.


To me art is something creative that makes someone smile.


Art is anything created from the heart with no real function other than giving pleasure, provoking new thoughts. (Functional art is design - which can also do those things). Art rouses emotions and feelings. Art is subjective and means different things to different people, and to the same people at different times.


Art is what? Art is a question.


Art for me is anything which poses a question to the viewer. It can be seriously provocative or aesthetically pleasing....or maybe it doesn't have to "mean" anything at all; but the not meaning anything should pose a question of if art needs to mean anything!!


Anything created which gives me the positive and celebratory emotional response I would get from nature. eg...a painting, song, story, performance about the sea that evokes feelings I would get from actually looking at/hearing/tasting/touching/smelling the sea.

I do not want to be distressed or made angry or is there to feed my soul and lift my life, not drain it.


I think art is anything that someone has created with a view to others seeing or purchasing it. Painting, performing, creating, anything! Sometimes I don't like it, but I know the person behind me will! Sometimes I love it and others don't - but if its an expression by another human being then its art!


Art is the creation of something physical (or literary) which represents how the creator sees something or wishes to express him or herself. There is a lot of pretentious nonsense spoken about art. "This is what so and so is trying to say...." How do we know that, if the artist say Monet, is not there any longer to ask? To me, if it's pleasing on the eye, I like it, but if it doesn't please me, that doesn't mean it's not art!


Art is a reaction to a previous action.


Art is fart without the F.


Art is a judged and calculated mark.


In my eyes art is anything from a building to an item of clothing, everyone's view on art is different; say I was at a gallery and there was a colourful scribble painting, I could see some meaning to it looking at it as art but the person next to me could think it was absolute rubbish and that they could do better. I mean an artist put a pickled cow on display in a London gallery (forgot his name but he's a well famous guy) I went to see it for myself. I wouldn’t say that was art but his other work in there to me was. I also saw Tracey Emins work (the one who done the messy bedroom) I thought that was brill and take my hat off her to doing that. Yeah we could all make our rooms look like that but she had the guts to actually bring it to light... awesome! Graffiti is art and there are so many amazing artist out there whose work is so amazing it looks fantastic on buildings. Tattooists do such amazing art it’s unreal, these people are so talented – I’d love to what they do!! Even music is art, the different types of music and culture. Music is an art on its own really, god I could go on forever. Both my jobs involve being artistic. This world would be such a boring place if it didn’t have these kinds of people to invent, build, paint or make the amazing things we see, hear and touch everyday!!!!


Art is the expression of perfection of form, the appreciation of which must lie with the individual.


Art is something visual that makes you think or feel.


Art is a list of infinite specifics.


Art is an expression of yourself. Relating to the content of the subject.


I say that art is a very deep subject that means a lot to different people, art is expressed in individual ways that can tell a lot about that person. I find art to be very personal; I do not like people looking at my art work.


That's an interesting question What is 'Art' Art originally referred to 'a honed skill' in something. ‘An Art’ , the art of cooking a chocolate cake, the art of motorcycle maintenance, the art of composing/ hairdressing/carving. We have become accustomed to the term Art referring to some sort of expressive activity like Painting, Dancing, Music, Performance but I think the aspect of skill has gone amiss somewhere and this can  lead to a lot of disillusionment and controversy in audiences/general public. I don't believe it's OK. for anybody to just, have an idea, execute it, present it in a public arena and call it art. We can call it creativity and everyone can be creative but not everyone is an artist. Time, effort, experience and a certain level of development of ideas/techniques etc. need to be part of the picture in my view for something to be called art. Even if it's the 'Art of having Ideas'.  


I suppose the word art to me is a meaningful piece of work that someone has created from the heart.


Art is an expression of many things, it can be a channel for emotion or a representation of something, someone or oneself. There is no good or bad art, the judgment of art is totally individual. An artists style can often evolve over time or in response to change.

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