What is art? A question like that can easily be put in the same category as the question “what is love?”. Both questions have the same amount of abstraction and personal interpretation to them, but for the latter question I have an answer. “Love is liking someone very, very, very, very, much.” (John Stewart Earth). But what is art? Is it Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” Jackson Pollock’s “Lavender Mist”, Rene Magritte’s “The Perfidy of Images”, Praxiteles’ “Aphrodite of Knidos”, a Japanese screen, an indigenous cave painting, sculptures from the earliest and most primitive cultures of the worlds, do my own photo graphs even count?
The discussion about what art is raises endless questions and endless speculation about specific pieces of art, about movements of art (classicists vs. Dadaists for example), and about what makes art…well…art. Something I think that everyone can agree on is that art expresses something. In “The Birth of Venus” Botticelli is expressing a story as well as various neo-platonic Renaissance ideals. Jackson Pollock’s “Lavender Mists” expresses an emotion. All art expresses something. A plain cereal bowl is not art, a wooden spoon is not art. But the cartoon character at the bottom of the cereal bowl is art and the logo on the wooden spoon’s handle is art however. Commercial art is still art!
Commercial art is art that is made for a specific person or purpose. You make the design because someone tells you to and will give you money. Money talks, artists have bills to pay too! All artists up until recently were commercial artists, you didn’t paint something you had decided you wanted to paint and then hope someone would buy for it very often back then. This distinction between “Fine Arts” and “Commercial Arts” is fairly recent I think and probably started to come about with the invention of the camera.
Being a photographer I could go off on exactly how I feel about the camera and how I think it impacted art as a whole, why I say it’s art, and probably a lot more stuff that a lot of you don’t care about right now! I’ll get to that post later.
Back to the point.
Art is still very much art even if it’s commercial. In commercial art, it’s just very direct. You see a piece of commercial art (a logo, or an ad in a magazine) and you get the point right away. Commercial art is great for people with the skill and the natural talent and eye, but without the drive to make their own statement. Fine art is for people who have the drive to express their inner thoughts and attitudes and are hopefully lucky enough to get paid.
A lot of art speaks to the masses, it speaks to you, me, anybody with a brain who looks at a work of art and thinks about it enough. If you do that, about 85% of the time you’ll get a point. Maybe not a point that the artist was trying to make, but you’ll get a point, and the art has spoken to you. But more recently with the contemporary art a new pattern is emerging of art that is speaking to other art.
What I mean by that is, you can look at some new art, and not figure out what it’s saying unless you’re an art historian, contemporary art expert, or a contemporary artist yourself. I personally don’t have that much respect for this kind of art, I like to compare it to someone explaining the Greek language to someone who already speaks Greek.
Art is something that tells a story, expresses an emotion or an idea. Yet, it doesn’t quite capture the essence of what art is. To say that art is something beautiful omits the art that is terrifying and ugly. To say that it serves no purpose other than itself forgets about crafts, cooking, architecture. To say that art works through images leaves out literature, poetry and music. To say that art communicates is the only accurate statement about it. But art is also something much bigger than us humans, and yet is something inherently programmed into our brains. People think about love and ask “what is love?”, people think about art and ask “what makes art…art?”