You don’t have to understand art to enjoy it, but it certainly will add to your appreciation. Let’s start with the most basic, yet complicated question. What is art?

There are countless definitions of art. The American Heritage Dictionary defines art as “the conscious use of the imagination in the production of objects intended to be contemplated or appreciated as beautiful, as in the arrangement of forms, sounds or words”. But not all art is beautiful or inspiring, nor is it meant to be. Art can be hideous and disconcerting. It can uplift the spirit, or leave one with a sense of despair.

So, we can add this excerpt from Merriam Webster “… beautiful, or that expresses important ideas or feelings”. But that doesn’t seem to cover all aspects of art either. Then there’s this definition provided by a five-year-old: “drawing, coloring, and making stuff.”

Art portrays concepts that cannot be communicated through words alone.  Hence the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. Art can elicit a variety of emotional reactions whether it be awe, joy, hopelessness, appreciation, or confusion. It all depends on the perspective of the observer.

Obviously, there is no standard agreed-upon definition of the word “art”. As the expression goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The same could be said for art. How about a banana duct-taped to a wall? What about a urinal in a public restroom? What if the urinal was in a museum? Would that change the perception? Who decides? The public? The artist? The museum? The art critic? According to the America Heritage definition, neither the banana nor the urinal would constitute art.

What constitutes art is quite broad and continues to change over time.  Art has evolved from primitive sculptures and cave drawings created thousands of years ago, to the very recent development of non-fungible tokens (“NFT”s), to everything in between. Artists, as always, continue to push boundaries. Who knows what exciting art form will be next to emerge!

We will be writing periodic articles on various aspects of art such as terms, art movements, and more. Stay tuned if you want to broaden your understanding and enjoyment of art.