Art is what artists produce. All artists are human beings, but not all human beings are artists. So, what is it that makes a human being an artist? And what is it that they produce? These simple questions are the basis of endless debate so lets break it down into simple chunks.
There seem to be three common threads running through all definitions of art:
- We expect to see some form of manual or technical skill, something we are not ourselves capable of, or which we aspire to. We can see this in lots of walks of life, sport, the arts as well as painting, drawing and sculpture. However, it is important that we do not see this as the most important or only criteria.
- We also expect to encounter some form of intellectual challenge, something that confronts our ideas, thoughts, and beliefs, but has no definitive answer, something akin to a political or religious discussion.
- Finally, we should see some form of personal or public expression, feeling, emotion that communicates what the art is about. When we hold a conversation we express our ideas and thoughts, it is the same type of process.
The three points mentioned above describe a lot of things humans produce so what else do we need to understand to define what art is? Let’s start with the word Art itself. Art is related to the word artificial in the sense that art is not naturally occurring like a tree, man creates art. It does not follow that anything man produces is Art. Why is this?
There is something different, more profound about Art compared with what is simply manufactured by man. For example, let’s compare a sculpture of a human figure with a manufactured nail. The sculpture can tell to us something about the human form or condition, where as the nail is simply a functional object with little or no real significance. On the other hand a nail is a very useful object where as, in a practical sense, a sculpture is not. So, art seems to be a group of objects, ideas or activities, which it could be argued are useless in practical terms, yet are different or significant in a way that a nail or painting a window frame is not.
Art constantly changes and as each century passes by, artists change the direction of art, or in some cases redefine it altogether. In the early 20th century, the artist Marcel Duchamp invented the ready-made, a work of art created from found objects, and made us look at everyday objects in a quite different way. Artists such as Hilma af Klint and Wassily Kandinsky choose to reduce the world to series of lines, colours and shapes and invented abstraction with its consequent effect on design, architecture and fashion.
It is not just artists that change art; technology has also made its mark. Without the invention of the camera obscura (the simple pin hole camera) some artists would have struggled to create their topographical paintings. Luckily the paint tube was invented before the 1860’s; otherwise the ability of the Impressionist painters to work outside would have been almost impossible. Today we see computers influencing everything from animation to special effects and generating new forms of art at the same time, just as the invention of photography did in the 19th century. And who knows where AI will take us?