Art is complicated. Art is hard to understand. Art is for rich people. Art is expensive. Art is a luxury item that celebrities buy to make people think they are smarter than they really are. Art is boring. Art is offensive. Art is elitist. I’m sure there are plenty more where these came from; but you get the idea.
Those statements are all true. They are also all false. You see, art is subjective. There is beauty in art and like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty and art are quite possibly the most subjective topics that mankind has struggled to deal with since the beginning of time. I have no doubt that when that early human painted on the cave walls at least one of his (or her) contemporaries thought it was magnificent and another thought it was crap.
Not only is art subjective, but it is also historical. The philosophies, political and social events of the time (culturally as well as relating to the individual artist),and the technology available when the work is created play great roles in the creative process. So, an understanding of the time period and the relevant societal, political, religious, personal, and technological issues of the artist and the time in question can transform a piece of art for the viewer. Many people don’t have access to this information, or a desire to learn, and thus dismiss the art as irrelevant. And maybe it is.
But art is also timeless. Great works of art transcend time and meaning. They are viewed by people from different cultural frames of reference, throughout time, and invoke a response in these different viewer regardless of the frame the viewer puts on the work with their own preconceived ideas and references.
So, what is art? In it’s simplest definition, art is a person (or people) expressing themselves to create a response in others. Now, I think that might be a bit of oversimplification. I don’t for a second believe that every time someone expresses themselves it is art. So, I would add clauses like: through a chosen medium (writing, painting, music, dance, drama, clay, fiber, technology, design…); and surpassing the medium (every photograph is not art…most are just snapshots and the same goes for every medium) and with the express intention of conveying (or translating) thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It is in the adding of these clauses that the idea of art becomes both clearer and less clear. Because, now we are adding more layers to the definition that might or might not include a particular artist or art form.
Art is translation. Translating beauty we find in the natural world into a non-natural form. It is translating cultural ideas about beauty or events or ideals across geographic or cultural borders. It is translating that which is important to me to others. It is people’s attempts to convey meaning to others. Or just an attempt to make sense of things for themselves.
Art is all of these things, none of these things, and more. Art requires conversation. It requires contemplation. It requires an artist and an audience. It requires comment and discussion. Art is a learning process. Art is an integral part of who we are. It recognizes the human potential and encourages growth, communication, and understanding.
I’ll say this part again…art requires conversation. Please share your thoughts and join the conversation.