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Attempting To Define Art Essay

999 words - 4 pages

Definition Essay – Attempting to Define Art

Considering that last semester I took both History of Western Art and, in the philosophy department, Aesthetics, I would have thought that I am now in a better position than I was a year ago to answer the question, “What is art?” Going into the philosophy course I had the idea that art worked as a means of taking abstract values and placing them into concrete form. However, it soon became clear that there were many other praiseworthy things that could be said about art: it can be sublime, making us feel both the overwhelming force of nature and the overcoming strength of our free will (Kant); it bridges the natural and the ideal, ...view middle of the document...

I think the lesson to be drawn from this is that there is no brief answer to the question of what art is. Any definition that tries to capture an essence of art will be either too exclusive or too inclusive. Making art is a human activity that occurs in many contexts and for multiple purposes, so there will probably always be fuzzy edges around what counts as art (probably getting fuzzier over time). There are constraints, however. The media available and our abilities to manipulate them always limit art, as do the biological limits to human perception. That said, I think there are at least three general characteristics art has.

Art is the product of intelligence. This means that while accidents of nature, such as a sunset or a mountain view, can be very beautiful, they are not art. If this is true, the status of art lies not in the object but in the creator – a landscape painting may be visually identical to an actual landscape, but only the first is art.

Art is created with intent. This is a stronger version of the requirement that art is the product of an intelligence, for there are many things created intelligently (they may even be beautiful) that are created for some more utilitarian purpose. The artist creates to express and communicate something through his medium, whether to glorify religion, to celebrate humanist values, to simply capture a moment of everyday life or excite a passion, or just to evoke a feeling of pleasure.

With modern art the intent can be different, yet it is related to the first. In abstract art the attempt to represent some thing or idea is dropped in preference to pure exploration of the medium. (The most devoted proponents of abstract art even claim that all art is the exploration of media, such that earlier artists communicated messages...

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