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Art…what IS it?

According to



1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

Hmm.  Aside from being obtuse, I’d have to say that there are some unspoken assumptions in there.   I will admit that I pulled this definition expecting to find some theoretical issues, but they really did make it easier that I expected.

According to whose “aesthetic principles,” exactly?  Mine?  I doubt it!

And then, it follows up with another even more surprising notion, just begging for attention:  apparently, art “is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.”  Don’t worry, I’m not planning to take you on a wilderness trek through the philosophy of beauty and what it is/isn’t.  The assumptions I’m questioning here are even more basic.

Art has to be beautiful?


One word: Guernica.

Does it have to be appealing?

Umm, I guess the person who wrote that definition wasn’t around to see any Marcel DuChamp.  Though many of the art critics of his day would probably agree with the dictionary definition!

Does it even have to be significant?

Vincent Van Gogh’s work was almost completely unknown until well after his death.  Does that mean the intrinsic art-ness of his paintings did not exist until somebody came along and said, “Hey, these are pretty good!”

I guess we know where the dictionary stands.  The amazing mysteriousness about art is that at it’s very core, it is constantly striving to defy any constraints placed on it.  Luckily for us, we don’t have to depend on this terse, alienating sentence to tell us what art is.  Everyone has an idea (whether it’s a kernel or a fully matured philosophy) of what art means to them.

To illustrate the poignant, personal side of art, I asked some of our COCA staff members for their own individual definition of art.  As you will see, there are some common threads, but they are all quite different.  The artistry of the human mind is an awesome thing!

“To me,

• Art is something that everyone interprets differently.

• Art appreciates everyone, yet not everyone appreciates art.

• Art is something created for people to observe, enjoy, reflect, be inspired, think or merely comment.

• Art is what someone is trying to say but is better said without words.”

“To me, art is many different things but most importantly it is the result of stimulating thoughts and emotions.”

“Art is expression in all sorts of wonderful forms!”

“Outwardly expressed, abstracted or patterned ideas designed with intent.”

“The external manifestation of internal creativity.”

“Art is beyond definition. What makes one person say, ‘what the heck?’ makes the next person say, ‘ah I get it!’ And that’s what makes it so captivating.”

So, what is art to you?

Written by Kate Olympiadis. Kate is a visual artist and lifelong logophiliac who works in the Administrative and Marketing departments at COCA.

Posted in Art, Community, Creativity, General.

12 Responses

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  1. matt pfaff says

    art is what moves you, good or bad
    it has to make you think

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Tweets that mention Art…what IS it? – A Day in the Arts -- linked to this post on October 22, 2010

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SCOSAG and Campbell House, CenterOfCreativeArts. CenterOfCreativeArts said: New blog post: what is art? That's right, we're gettin' theoretical up in here. [...]

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