Social Question

SpatzieLover's avatar

What is your definition of art? What is your definition of an artist?

Asked by SpatzieLover (24586points) March 24th, 2011

After this question yesterday, I began wondering just what other Flutherers criteria were when they use the words “Art” or “Artist”.

What is definitely art in your eyes?
What is not?

Who is an artist?
Who is not?

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40 Answers

JmacOroni's avatar

Art is something that is created by a person with a vision. (aka, an artist.) I don’t care if it is a single line of paint on a canvas or piss in a jar, if it was created by someone that had a vision of what they wanted to create, it’s art. IMHO.

dxs's avatar

Artist is someone who has a talent that takes skill to do; Art is that talent.

Nullo's avatar

Broadly speaking, I define art as the application of skill to achieve an aesthetically-pleasing end. If it fails to meet any of these criteria in any way, it is either bad art, or is not art at all.
Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers are art.
Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca and its product are not art.
Random piles of junk, lacking skill, are not art. Things designed a certain way out of necessity, lacking aesthetic intent, are not art.

Laina's avatar

I believe that art is something that helps us express those emotions that can’t be expressed through words.

creative1's avatar

Art is someting that has been created by someone whether its music, a painting, a drawing, a sculpture and etc…. an Artist is the person whom created these things wheather or not they are professional or not. I think that is where everyone gets confused is they think someone needs to be professional in order to be an Artist but they don’t they just need to create to be an Artist.

12Oaks's avatar

I feel so loved now, @SpatzieLover, thanks. :-)

I kind of liked when Rudy Giuliani said to the effect “If I could do it then it isn’t art.” I kind of like to think of it as a unique skill set where a creation of the imagination is the result.

I’ll use my American Idol example, and their abuse of the word Artist. If you just sing songs, like cute little Thia Media, songs others have previously written, have been recorded, and you’re just singing a song that’s been sung so many times before, calling yourself an artist, as so many contestants on that show do, seems to be an abuse of the word. If you learn the instrument, write a unique song, and play it then art may be a more acceptable term (Though personally, and being a musician myself, I really don’t like to consider music as an art form). Piss in a jar? Absolutely not.

6rant6's avatar

Art is something created by a human being expressly with the intent and solely for the purpose of transforming the partakers’ view of something.

My view of art excludes things that are merely pretty. Pretty things can be nice and desirable, but that doesn’t make them art. Sunrises are not art. A pretty girl is not art just because she is pretty.

An obvious example is Georgia O’keefe, whose paintings of flowers were pretty, but more importantly, they transformed the way the viewer would forever more see flowers.

stardust's avatar

I believe art to be something that was created from another on a soul level.
I believe an artist is a someone who has awakened something within themselves and has created something with this new knowledge/peace, etc, etc.
Artists speak on behalf of the collective in my opinion
I view art as being quite broad
Painting, Music, Poetry, Prose, Dance, Design, Building, Theatre, etc
I don’t consider piss in a jar to be art at all at all

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This is an interesting question for me, because I just finished acting in a play by Yasmina Reza called ‘ART’. (link(play)) It’s a comedy about 3 friends and their response when one of them buys a painting that is totally white. Is it art or not?

I was performing art about art. It was very funny.

There are, broadly speaking, 2 kinds of art: visual and performance. Visual art includes those things we think of looking at and calling art like painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. The performing arts include theater, dance, and music.

For me, art is whatever the artist says it is. If the creator asserts that it’s art, then it is.

Having said that, I do believe there is good art and there is bad art. Is a white painting art? To the character Serge in the play, yes. One friend pronounces it shit, and the other waffles. To me personally, a white painting could be art, but I wouldn’t buy it and hang it in my house.

JmacOroni's avatar

I agree with @hawaii_jake, I can definitely consider something art.. but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to like it. There is definitely bad art. lol.

6rant6's avatar

@hawaii_jake If you say anything can be art if the creator says so, you kind of erode any usefulness the word has. For example, if the guy at McDonald’s who makes the fries says it’s art ,does that make it art? If so, “art” is meaningless.

If I say, I’m looking to buy some art, I don’t want to be directed to McDonald’s. A place the had “Piss Christ” would probably hold other works that interest me – things that I would consider art., Although I probably would not want to take that particular piece home. Already enough crap at my house.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@6rant6 : Yes, I see your point, but I did think about what I wrote before I put it up there. To clarify, perhaps what I mean to say is that an artist is a person who creates a visual or performance piece meant to please, entertain, educate, etc., the viewer. With that said, art can be almost anything.

I honestly think that cooks and chefs could be considered artists. Once again, there is good and bad art. Just like there is good and bad food.

I’m thinking on my feet, so to speak, but I believe that the creator has the prerogative to declare whether or not something is art. The viewer can decide for himself whether or not it’s any good.

12Oaks's avatar

@6rant6 You say you’d buy art at a place that sells Piss Christ. That may, may, mean you’d be interested in buying Piss Christ for display in your home. I would just ask, instead of buying that for any price, why not just make it yourself? I mean, it’s not like it’s all that hard. Or would you say, in the case of Piss Christ, it’s not the finished result (as anyone could do that) but the conceptial design that makes it art?

And for the record, I’d take the pretty gal over Piss Christ any day. ;-)

JmacOroni's avatar

I don’t think the fact that someone else may be able to replicate the finished piece makes it any less art than something that would be difficult to reproduce. It is the vision and the message and the creativity behind a work that makes it art, not necessarily what it looks like at the end.

wundayatta's avatar

Art is anything that someone thinks is art. The idea of art is conceptual. It’s a way of looking at the world around you. It isn’t just what a human does, it is a way a human sees. A beautiful view in nature is art, if you want to see it that way. That’s what environmental artists might do. Just like a urinal is art, if you want to see it that way.

An artist? That’s a more social concept. It is not determined by what someone does. Rather it is determined by what someone thinks the artist does. An individual can call themselves an artist, but that does not make it so, except in their own minds.

Some people would define an artist as someone who had trained in something publicly recognized as art, or who had trained themselves through long practice. I.e., you have to pay your dues. Some people would say there is a standard for art, and if you don’t make that standard, then no matter how many other people think it’s art, it isn’t.

I once had a couple of members of a group leave in a huff; maybe even angrily; because of a conversation about this subject. The bottom line was that they thought the Beatles were the beginning of the end for art in this world. Everyone else thought the Beatles were great musicians and artists. We never saw them again. Clearly there’s dogma in art, just as there is in religion (which is equally hard to define).

I think it’s better to go for inclusive definitions. Restrictive ones inevitably have too many holes in them to really mean much. The universe, for God’s sake, is an artist, if you have the eyes to see. Of course, most people only see art in limited ways.

6rant6's avatar

@hawaii_jake Actually, what I meant to say is what I said.

@12Oaks I would also take the pretty girl. I would take a bundle of carrots in preference to the Piss Christ, too, but that doesn’t make it art.

@wundayatta Art may be difficult to define, but to say it’s whatever <i>anyone</i> says it is to give up. People think reproductions of art are art. No they are reproductions of art. People think flowers are art. No, they are flowers. let’s not recognize the lowest common denominator as as proper substitute for thought, please!

I mean, people disagree about all abstract ideas – justice, freedom, right – but saying it’s meaning is whatever any moron person thinks it is, is pointless and weak. “The universe is an artist?” Poetry maybe, but nothing that helps the word “artist” convey anything.

auntydeb's avatar

‘Art’ is the physical, or observable by-product of a creative process.

An individual’s response to a ‘work of art’ is entirely defined by their experience and background (aesthetics are learned, beauty really is subjectively ‘in the eye of…’). The content of any given piece of ‘art’ is likely to embody both conscious and unconscious information from the artist. That is what makes it interesting.

Most of what is written about art is cobblers. If you like something, that’s fine. If it affects you, that’s fine too. If someone tells you to like something, or that your response is ‘wrong’, they are being arrogant. Education helps, like learning a language, it is possible to learn to like something; or at least to appreciate it. I believe ‘art’ is as important to the world as clean water.

syzygy2600's avatar

Art is something that the artist who created it views as art.

An artist is someone who expresses themselves in their chosen medium not for money or fame, but because they have a need to do so. To a true artist it doesn’t matter if one or one million are watching, if it sells for one dollar or one million dollars. If they are doing it for money and/or fame, they’re not an artist, they’re a whore.

6rant6's avatar

@syzygy2600 So you think artist and whore are mutually exclusive? I don’t get that.

6rant6's avatar

Can I try framing this discussion differently?

Imagine a person who has no language. That person could make something or do something, but they would not be able to pronounce it “art”. For those who say art is art because the artist calls it that, is this person incapable of producing art?

Assuming that the prevailing view is that my mute artist can produce art, will you decide that his work is art based upon some perceived intent of his? If so, what intent is it? Does your definition of art require that it be viewed and that the intent should be realized in the viewer?

auntydeb's avatar

@6rant6 – by all means!

It sounds to me that what you are describing is ‘outsider’ or ‘raw’ art. This is work that is seen as untutored, or untrained. The work itself is diverse, often difficult to look at and as weird or wonderful as that by any ‘real’ artist. The only difference, is the way the work is made. The artist will produce the work for their own enjoyment or amusement, or as an obsessive occupation. It is when an art dealer, or another artist sees their work that definitions start to be applied.

Take a look at this site for images of modern Outsider artists. The questions raised by this kind of work are not so much about the quality or style of the pieces themselves, but the ethics of how they are then sold. I think it is entirely a privilege of Western culture to regard creative products as artworks to be sold for massive gain, when the reality is that very few artists actually make money.

On the other hand, it is also easy to become cynical about the whole art scene. We all need to make a living. It’s a shame it is so hard to do so if your skill is aesthetic – and not helped by being judged a whore!

wundayatta's avatar

If @syzygy2600‘s definition rules, then dance, skating, theater, and probably others can not be art. The non-artist whole purpose is to communicate to others, and if there is no audience there is no point to the art.

Art is a communal thing, and people can not do it in a vacuum. It is a different way of communicating ideas, and it often communicates things that can not be expressed in words.

@6rant6 People think reproductions of art are art. No they are reproductions of art. People think flowers are art. No, they are flowers.

Ok, here is an old master’s painting, and right next to it is a copy. The two pieces are distinguishable, but only by a scholar who has worked with this kind of art for decades, and even then, there is disagreement about which is the fake.

By your definition, one of those paintings is art, and the other isn’t.

Let us consider the flower. I can take a flower and arrange it in a vase, and voila! Art! No. Wait. @6rant6 tells me it’s a flower, not art. Never mind that some cultures have centuries long tradtions of the art. If you say it is the arranging that makes it art, then the flowers in my garden and the trees and such were all arranged by me. Yet they look like nature, which you think isn’t art. Hmmmm. You have to draw a line somewhere, and wherever you draw that line I will find an example that contravenes your definition.

let’s not recognize the lowest common denominator as as proper substitute for thought, please!

I’m sorry @6rant6, but here it seems that you are the one who hasn’t been thinking. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this issue, and I have asked this question before—maybe a year or two ago. So don’t insult my thinking. Don’t tell me it’s your sandbox, because if that’s what you want, then you should have given your definition in the question, so no one would have had to say anything. We could have all bowed down before your magnificent wisdom.


If the artist is the one who determines what art is, then what use is that? We must be educated in order to know who an artist is and then to understand his point of view (and they would most likely be all he’s under this definition). Who gets to say who an artist is? Is there some Imperial vizier who gets to say? How about the guild of all artists?

And what about the person who perceives the art? We have to believe the artist? The artist who puts a urinal on the wall and says it is art. Is it? Lot’s of people don’t agree. Don’t they have a say? What if an Artist says something is not art, but the viewers see it as art? Is it still not art?

Is art what gets put in museums? All museums or only some? Oh, and who gets to say what a museum is?

Is folk art art? If it isn’t, then how do you tell the difference between folk are that isn’t art because it was done by the folk, and folk art that is art because an Artist produced it? And if it is art, then where’s the line between art and non-art in the folk art world?

You know what? What it comes down to is that it is an issue of race and class and ethnicity. Traditionally, art is what is done in the King’s court. Nothing else counts. So the King gets to say what art it.

We don’t have kings any more, but we do have academics. They are the people who are trying to get the monopoly on who gets to say what art is. There’s a lot of power in having that position. Any discussion that tries to set art apart from the rest of the world is an elitist approach. But none of their arguments are tenable, because there are always examples that everyone would consider art that don’t fit in their criteria, and there are things that fit in their criteria that no one thinks of as art.

This question, when it comes down to it, is a disingenuous question. There can be no standardized set of criteria that define art. What is really more interesting is to talk to people about what they think is being communicated via various media. They can focus on pictures or sounds or words or movement or three-dimensional creations. But if the conversation is an attempt to rule things out, it’s a bogus conversation and won’t go anywhere interesting.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.
Andy Warhol

Land really is the best art.
Andy Warhol

Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign again the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.
Andy Warhol

Nullo's avatar

There’s a French couple someplace whose assumed business it is to wrap significant structures and then photographing them. While technically photography, I would hesitate to call it art.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Nullo : I believe you mean Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The wikipedia article gives a few pictures. I will try to find more tomorrow. Right now, it’s too late for me, and I need sleep.

Their work most definitely is art. Reactionary attitudes not withstanding.

here are some pictures.

Nullo's avatar

@hawaii_jake But it’s hardly worth looking at. Hence my hesitance.

12Oaks's avatar

By many personal definitions, this question could be considered a work of art as it seems to have stirred up the emotions of so many individuals. Hats off and kudos to @SpatzieLover

6rant6's avatar

@wundayatta Wow. You are incredibly condescending. I thought I might have a chance at the title, but no, I bow to you.

I have not been thinking? Jesus. Pretty full of yourself.

Just in case you actually want to hear my opinion rather than projecting one on me and then telling me how thoughtless I am, I will share it.

A tube of paint is not art. When an artist uses it to create a painting he may create art. A brick is not art. An artist may arrange bricks into a pattern or put them into a space where they are not expected in order to change the viewers perception. In this case, a brick may be made into art.

A flower is not art. An artist may take flowers and compose them into a work that conveys an image which transforms the way viewers see the world. That would be art. A flower is still not art. Without the artists intent to transform, and the actual accomplishment of that intent, there is no art.

A tube of paint is not art. A brick is not art. A flower is not art.

A duplication of a master is not art. It is a duplication. Yes, there may be power in the original which comes through in the copy. It is the intent of the original master which is art. Not the pressing of the copy button. The copy is not (generally) art, the printshop worker not an artist. It is possible that one person may see a work of art and be moved and tell a second person about what they saw. The second person may have their worldview changed by hearing about the work of art. But there is only one piece of art – the original. The telling about it – or the copying of it – is not art.

A murderer who pronounces his crime “justice” has not created justice by saying it is. A parent who brutalizes a child and claims he’s done so in the name of good parenting does not by that attribution make the act one of good parenting. And when someone shits on a canvas and pronounces it “art” that does not make it so.

Here’s a test for you. Is it possible for anyone to try to create art and FAIL? According to your definition, anyone claiming to have created art is right. Crap, I say.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I love this thread. This is exactly what happens in the play ‘ART’ I was in. The conversation devolves to name calling and diatribes over what constitutes art and what doesn’t. I find it amazing that this subject should hold such impassioned and, at times, almost adolescent feelings.

When Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin (link), I found it jaw-droppingly beautiful art, but Nullo would not agree. He would think it’s hardly worth looking at. The pictures of “Surrounded Islands” linked in an above comment are purely divine to me.

Why? The wrapped Reichstag reminds me of a present on Christmas morning with all its hope and wonder. The piece was completed in 1995 after the reunification and could be said to represent the hopes of the new country. As for the “Surrounded Islands”, to me it’s a chance for man to commune with Earth’s creator, whatever that is.

6rant6 compels us to place the intent of the creator above what someone merely calls art. It seems he might be undermining his own point, however, by drawing our attention to a flower, for who’s to say what the intent of the universe was in creating that flower? (He then goes on to make some facile logical jumps by comparing the discussion going on here to a murderer, a brutal parent, and shit.)

6rant6 also asks us a question about the failure to create art. I would assert that only the artist can tell us if s/he succeeded or not, which brings us back to the question of what is art? Oh my. It’s a circle, isn’t it?

6rant6's avatar

@hawaii_jake My point in bringing up other abstract concepts is that if you allow anyone to decide what is what then the language loses all power. “Justice” and “art” are examples of abstract concepts. My examples were to help people see that we don’t generally allow anyone to define them any old way. That doesn’t facilitate communication, which I assert is why we have language.

I think there is room for disagreement about what constitutes art. I would even go so far as saying that it is necessary for there to be disagreement. The burden of art is to explore ideas and feelings that are not readily communicated. It’s a heady, difficult thing. Can a blank canvas be art? Is a salt lick carved by a steer’s tongue art? Is a sunset art? A trash heap? An car off the assembly line? A well-toned body?

We’re unlikely to assert the same definition of “art”. Even if we have the same definition, there will be examples which cause us to disagree whether the definition is met. I just want a definition that has some power to help us communicate.

Saying art is what anyone claims it is, as I said, is to give up on communicating.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@6rant6 : I don’t think we’re giving up on communicating. I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Perhaps what we’re getting down to is the question of absolutes. When you bring up justice, you’re bringing up a conundrum that has been with us at least since Homer and Socrates. Does it exist? I don’t think either of them came to a definitive answer.

To get back to the OP, I still assert that art is what the creator says it is. I like your notion of intent being intricately woven into the definition, but I believe it’s woven into my definition as well. The creator/artist intends to make something that is art, and when s/he is done, then it is art by definition. Whether it’s good art or bad is a totally other question.

6rant6's avatar

So if I say, My writing here is art,” – even though I don’t actually believe it – do you think it IS art?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@6rant6 : But you, the creator, don’t believe it. Nevertheless, if you say it’s art, then it is. Once again, that brings up the question of good or bad art, a whole other question.

6rant6's avatar

@hawaii_jake And if I create something and say it’s not art, is there any chance that I am wrong, and it is art?

Response moderated (Obscene)
Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@6rant6 : I’m going to take a wild stab at something and say, “Yes,” because someone may come along, pull it out of the trash, love it, and convince you to make more.

Edit to add: @12Oaks: that makes me want to wretch.

Nullo's avatar

@hawaii_jake You’re right. I think that the wrapped Reichstag looks like they’re fumigating the place. @6rant6 has a point; if you give the recipient license to interpret the content of the message any way that he wants, regardless of the parameters established by the medium and the context and the cues in the message, then you have cut the sender right out of the equation. Communication has broken down. Which is but a lesser shortcoming of such relativism. If you’re lucky, the leftover noise will be eye-catching.
Of course, this means that the sender has to establish those parameters for interpretation in the first place – a shortcoming inherent in the more abstract flavors of not-art.

wundayatta's avatar

I wonder. Do we all agree that art is an attempt at communication?

Communication, of course, requires a sender and a receiver, as @Nullo points out. Then, what is the significance of the sender’s intent and the receiver’s perception? Some people have asked if the sender intended to send some information (say that this is art), but the receiver doesn’t understand it as art, do we have any communication going on here? Does communication require exact understanding?

Anyway, if the creator of the art is paramount, than anything the creator considers art must be art, even if no one else perceives it to be art. Similarly, if the perceiver of art is paramount, than many things might be considered art where there was no intent to make art.

I just took a look around my office. Phone, pencils, plastic silverware, filing cabinet, lamps, jewel cases, clock, soda bottle, chair, etc, etc, etc. I do not see a single thing that someone did not put in an effort to make look more appealing—an apparent effort to communicate both aesthetics and an idea of how the thing should be used. It’s all art, to me. I can appreciate the aesthetic elements in all of it. I can appreciate the process by which it is made.

Receivers may or may not perceive the information the sender sends very accurately. They may perceive messages where there is no apparent sender to send the message.

Senders may also have no clue about how to communicate. If no one understands the message, or if they understand the message in some way antithetical to the intent of the message, then how can we be talking about art?

I don’t think there is any definition of art that you can get much agreement about in any small group of people. I think in the larger community, there are probably different camps, with different ideas about what art is.

To a large extent, I think, it is these social groups consensus that determines what art is. There are different groups of people who determine what goes in museums, and what fetches high prices, and what belongs in galleries and what gets sold at roadside stands and what is made purely for domestic consumption or for decoration or any other attempt to make things more aesthetically pleasing to perceivers.

There is probably some consensus about what art is that is shared between all these groups, but there is probably a lot more that is not shared. The definition of art is not something you can gather a large consensus about. It’s also kind of irrelevant, except as a starter for cocktail party conversation where no one particularly cares what anyone else says.

For me, art is a way of perceiving. It is about looking for underlying meaning—the whys and wherefores of an act by an apparent creator. Except it really doesn’t matter if there is a creator, nor, if there is a creator, what the creator intended. I see what I see, and if I see art, then it’s art.

Sometimes I am interested in the intent of the artist. Other times I’m more interested in what I find there. When I talk to others about art, I urge them to see what they see and not to try to guess what the artist intended. The artist isn’t here. All that is here is the artifact, which must, then, speak for itself.

I have seen this discussion break up a group of friends faster than being run over by a runaway train. For some reason, it seems to generate powerful feelings by people who feel a certain righteousness in their point of view. Let’s look at another little example. If I intend no condescension in a comment, yet someone else feels I am condescending, who is right? Can we both be right? What if I intended no condescension, yet, when someone reads the comment, they feel like they are being condescended to and they point it out, and I decide that yes, it was condescension. Furthermore, it was well-deserved condescension. What then? Did it change from non-condescension to condescension? If so, it makes for a really easy way to push someone else’s buttons. If they let those buttons be pushed.

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