How to define art


Author: Nikita Kosmin


Snimok ekrana 2022-07-04 v 13-46-11



When it comes to defining something as nebulous as art, the curious reader, whether a complete novice or a legendary master, finds himself in a predicament. The more one delves into the question, the fewer answers and the more questions one ultimately receives. Without that, however, there is no going forward. For anyone intimately involved with art forms, from the gentle shapes of Aphrodite de Milos to the jagged edges of Bosch, the main question is how to define art. 


A technical expert would put it to you this way: if you walked into an art gallery and saw that one of the floorboards was sticking out of the floor because the rain was dripping from the ceiling, and saw no signs explaining what was going on, would you consider that misshapen floorboard to be art? 


What if your friend quickly whispered in your ear that it was a work by a famous artist who admitted to being the author of an installation in a specific style that was based on “not attracting attention”? What if it was a representation of rebellion inspired by a spontaneous intervention of the heavens, a fundamental concept that inspires the story of Bradbury's 451 Fahrenheit and is actually one of the most fundamental philosophical breakthroughs in human history? What if your friend did not tell you that? Could you still consider the floorboard to be art? 


For argument’s sake, we can add more mainstream questions about stapling a banana  to the wall and selling it for a mastodon sum, or a sawn pine tree, or Malevich's White Square. The question behind all this is: what is art and what is not? 


According to French literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes, art has everything to do with the interpretation of the viewer, a kind of Rorschach test that is entirely in the eye of the beholder. 


The author of the work of art (any work of art) has ceased to exist to tell the viewer what to think. In this framework, the author could be anyone: a painter, rain, and even an AI. This opens the door to many delicious conversations about the nature of things. For example: can a robot write a symphony? We thought it did not have a soul? 


But there are also answers to many questions. In a sense, anything that makes the viewer think and feel something is art. Anything that is open to interpretation is art, and everything is open to interpretation. This explains the most controversial art objects and even answers questions like, "How can a pile of pixels sell for almost $12,000,000?" If you consider rain or fireworks to be the originators of art, the task of defining art becomes much easier. 


So now we have defined (very loosely) what art is: anything that makes us pause, look, feel, and be filled with religious fervour. But what is it for? 


Now we’re back to square one: there are as many opinions about the purpose of art as there are artists, and that's downright rattling. While we certainly cannot grasp all the infinite complexities of art, we have come up with a few definitions of its purpose: 


Art as a way to leave a legacy 

While we ourselves tend to be very critical and prosaic about ourselves, when new generations look back at what is left of us, they will be filled with infinite wonder. Surprisingly, as the old saying goes, the truth is infinitely more exciting than anything you can think up. The stories about us will be viewed with the same enthusiasm with which we explore Mayan ruins, gold in sunken ships, and remnants of earlier civilizations. We may not think of ourselves as interesting, but the art we create now will fascinate and inspire generations to come. 


"Art cleanses the soul"

It's a proven fact: art therapy works, and often better than other forms of therapy. What is more important than our mental health? Science may be the way to find God, as Einstein said, but art is the way God finds you. Much easier, if you think about it. And faster. 



"Steal like an artist" 

The point of art may not be to steal, but many espouse the theory that "good artists borrow, great artists steal." New York best-selling author Austin Kleon believes that all artwork are unoriginal. Sound dangerous? If you want to learn how to protect your work at all levels, Artessere has a whole section on licensing, security and protection of your art.

Subscribe to our newsletter

and stay up-to-date with news and events!