Wednesday, May 2, 2007

So why do we call it 'Art'

Is there a universal definition of 'art'?

Who decides what is art? These days everything seems to be termed 'art' but what is the criteria for something being called that?

Is it beauty - that can't be, there are certain works of art designed not to be beautiful, especially these days when people seem to be fascinated by the opposite of beauty, so who is to say that isn't art?. For something to be a work of art, beauty is not always a requirement. Another argument against beautiful being the definition of art is that beauty, truly, is in the eye of the beholder although of course there are things that can be termed 'beautiful' universally, take a sunset for example. Anyway beauty is a very subjective concept, colored a lot by our emotions.

Is art a depiction of popular culture? Its critique through artwork. Does every age have its own definition of art...its own set of art work? Years from now what would be termed 'art' - a brilliant code, web designs, cool blogs???

What features do things we call works of art have in common - if any.

The Sistine Chapel, Degas' paintings, Beethoven' 'Ode to Joy', Shakespeare's Hamlet... Why does everyone universally agree on them being works of art? Is art then something that moves us, challenges us, takes us to newer heights we didn't know we could reach. Not only challenges our minds but moves our heart
Or is it the result of the flexing of power of some members of the community, who deem something as 'art' and people follow in droves?

Can it be what connects some atavistic part of our brain to another's'?

In my opinion, art calls out to the ancient in us - before we became modern. It taps into the divine in all of us because it transcends mortality and mediocrity to reach beyond and create something majestic. Something that awes and stuns with its sheer magnificence, its power.

Much like most philosophical ramblings this one doesn't have an answer that can fit like a formula - everyone will have their opinion about it. But then thats what so great about is what can be termed 'art'


Gregory A. Becerra said...

The Art of Life on Old Things under the Sun also brings up Art, and I will respond in a similar fashion but expand it a bit.

Most questions are complicated because we obscure the subject matter. When people argue about what is art, they tend to be addressing: what is good art? What this group of people actual refer to is excellence. This is similar to the Chinese term kung-fu and what early Greek philosophers wrote about that ended up being translated as good. All of this references the excellence in some aspect of life. Hence, when we say someone has made doing X an art, we are talking about excellence.

On the other hand, certain activities themselves can be classified as art. From this perspective there can be good art and bad art. This is where people start bringing up concepts like beauty and truth and other pompous ideas. More art is ugly and horrid than pretty and inspiring. Statistically, the majority of work that we can call art for the sake of itself sucks. That's what makes the good stuff so special—it is surrounded by mediocrity and dregs.

There must be a connection between these two distinct concepts of art. I would argue that this connection is communication. All concepts of art share the connotation of communication. When someone excels at something, their activity communicates something to us. And in the latter example all things that can be considered art for the sake of the activity alone are forms of communications.

So art is not some mysterious thing. Art is communication. But it must be a subclass or special field of communication or else there would be no need for a distinction. So I add one more qualifier: Art is communication with the intent of conveying a whole and distinct cognition. This separates art from normal daily communication that works on a continuous and indistinct dialog basis.

And this sheds light on the importance of art and its study. Art teaches us how to communicate more effectively with each other. Some may argue that studying a language does this, but this is merely a tool or medium. Learning a language, even just a native one, is like learning to use a power saw or a cement mixer. This alone won’t help you build a stable house.

A complete education requires both analytic and aesthetic skills. Here in the U.S. art education has been dismantled in most educational institutions, especially the lower ones that cater to kids. The focus is on analytic skills. What many fail to understand is that our need to communicate in order to survive is what triggered the development of other higher cognitive functions not found in other living creatures.

In order to communicate, an individual has to extend an internal cognition into something aesthetic, and then shape it into some tangible representation that can be passed to another person. This process is communication. When we convey something that seems whole, we can call it art. It can be effective or ineffective art, but still art.

This ability gives us the capability to deal with the abstract. If not for this ability we would not be able to deal with analytical problems. So those who believe analytical studies are sufficient will be severely lacking. I would predict that they would have the ability to regurgitate what they learned but never fully understand what they are doing, kind of like parrots or idiot savants but slightly more socially acceptable. Art gives us the ability to expand on our accumulation of knowledge.

Greg's Brain
Greg's Writing Blog

Random Magus said...

"All concepts of art share the connotation of communication" - Gregory A. Becerra

Your comment was better than my post. I think you should put it up as a post on your blog.

More people should read it especially about communication being art - never thought of it in those lines as we tend to limit communication to words. But commuinication is on so many levels.

So whatever 'talks' to us is Art? Then a runner breaking a previous speed barrier is also termed as art?

And doesn't communication also depend on the level of learning of the other person - so if I don't understand Picasso it won't be termed as 'art'?

Gregory A. Becerra said...

Does your cat communicate to you?

Random Magus said...

truly yes...

Gregory A. Becerra said...

So you answered your own question: "doesn't communication also depend on the level of learning of the other person?" It does not. This is actually a linguistics issue.

Suppose I say "The cat is fat." This describes what the cat is, no? Now suppose I say "Le chat est gros." Did the cat stop being fat? The words I used merely describe the nature of the cat. The medium (in this case words) really aren't that important, it is the idea behind the medium that is. You may not have understood the second statement, but that did not change what it represented.

So you may not understand a Picasso, but that does not alter the nature of it. Communication only requires a sender and receiver. There is nothing to say that both cannot be the same person.

Based on my definition, a single word that conveys a complete thought can be considered art. Many graphic artists integrate words in their art.

And last, would you consider a painting of a runner as art? Then why not the actual runner if he/she communicates the same thing to you?

Random Magus said...

You had me convinced with the first comment but I love to dissent... but also realize that we would never learn if we didn't do it from others...
You have a shining intellect!