What is Art?
Mind you, I don’t claim to be an expert. I’ve done some reading and talked to a lot of people about art and there are a lot of ideas out there on what art really is.
Some say art is a work that is displayed in a gallery or performed on a stage. I can see that (pun not intended; well, actually it was) although I’m not there – yet.
Others say that art is a work commissioned by a patron. Alas, not there yet either.
Still others say a work is art if the artist says its art. That’s fine as long as the artist can get others to agree.
But none of these definitions help me to grow as an artist. They don’t provide any indication of a path I can take to become an artist (other than perhaps bribing someone to hang one of my photographs in a gallery, at least for a day or two).
I’m looking for a definition of art that will provide some guidance in my quest to become an artist – to grow as an artist.
Some speak of art and creativity as much the same thing. I know a lot of photographers that avoid the cliché shot because it’s been done before and creativity, and by association art, must be original and unique, something never done before. Granted, it’s nice to find something new but the clichés are also great to shoot, especially when you can make them your own.
Some look for a new way of using the medium, a new technique. For photographers that could be using new techniques in Lightroom or Photoshop to create effects that no one else has ever done. Or returning to the analog print and explore the traditional and exotic print techniques such as platinum prints.
These definitions are more helpful because they point to something I can do, something I can work on. But I don’t think I could take a picture of a plain, nondescript rock and convince anyone it was art, even though that rock had never been photographed before.
Then it struck me. We seek meaning in art. We expect to have a response to a work of art. We expect to gain something from it, to be enriched, to be enlightened. If a work of art doesn’t move us we are likely to say, “I don’t get it.” We expect there is something to ‘get’ from a work of art.
It was this awareness that led me to the first part of my working definition of art, namely,
Art is Communication
But what is communicated? Great art enriches us, moves us in different ways – maybe emotionally or perhaps intellectually. It often surprises and delights us, brings us pleasure, shows us tragedy or simply affects us in ways we don’t understand.
Art gives us a glimpse of the world and of reality as seen through the artist’s eyes. We can gain new insights into the world, into life’s successes and tragedies. We can appreciate nature in new and special ways. Which leads to the second part of my working definition of art
Art is Interpretation
Often the artist is sensitive to things we don’t see, that we’re not aware of. Some of the great work we so admire comes from the artist’s troubled soul. Beethoven and Mozart, Van Gough and Monet spring to mind. And through their work we perceive an intensity of emotion that many of us don’t readily experience in our normal, daily lives.
This gives me a path to follow as I strive to grow as an artist. Firstly, I can expand my ability to communicate through my chosen medium – photography. I can expand it by mastering the techniques associated with my instrument, my camera and exploring and developing proficiency with the many possibilities of expression in the digital darkroom. Secondly, I can strive to enhance what I see in the world, becoming more sensitive to both the spectacles and nuances in nature. In this way I can endeavor to capture moments that other’s might pass by and share with them the wonder and magic I feel.
So, to sum it up, I like to think of it this way…
“A work of art is the artist’s attempt to communicate his or her interpretation of reality.”
I invite you to join the conversation and share your thoughts.