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This article is about creative art. For the Celtic mythological figure, see Art mac Cuinn; for the play, see Art (play).

Art, in its broadest meaning, is a form of communication. It is usually expressed as a form of external creativity. There are many different forms of art; generally many people believe art to consist mostly of visual or performance art, such as painting, sculpture, music, or theatre.

Throughout the written history of humankind, various restrictions have been applied to the expression of art. Most individuals don't know what to consider about art, nor what they believe is or is not art. Additionally, groups, such as academics, have attempted to vaguely share a notion of what art is.

The word art is often used to refer to the visual arts, and arts is used to refer to visual art, literature, music, dance & theatre; the fine arts. However, such distinctions are the subject of many discussions and debates.

Art is universal throughout the human race & varied cultures; integral to the human condition. There are no cultures that do not participate in it to some extent, and child art is created by all from about the first birthday.



The word art derives from the Latin ars, which, loosely translated, means "arrangement" or "to arrange", though in many dictionaries the word's listing is tautologically translated as "art". This is the only universal definition of art, that whatever it is was at some point arranged in some way. A few examples where this meaning proves very broad include artifact, artificial, artifice, artillery, medical arts, and military arts. However, there are many other colloquial uses of the word, all with some relation to its etymological roots.

Defining art

There is often confusion about the meaning of the term art because multiple meanings of the word are used interchangeably. Individuals use the word art to identify painting, as well as singing.

Characteristics of art

  1. Requires creative perception both by the artist and by the audience
  2. Elusive (as in "tending to evade cut-and-dried definitions or being fixedly grasped")
  3. Communicates on many levels and is open to many interpretations
  4. Connotes a sense of ability
  5. Interplay between the conscious and unconscious mind, between what is real and what is an illusion
  6. May contain an idea other than its utilitarian purpose.
  7. Created with the intention to be experienced as art
  8. Displays different forms of captivating beauty or intrigue

Judgments of value

The word art is also used to apply judgments of value, as in such expressions as "that meal was a work of art" (the cook is an artist), or "the art of deception," (the highly attained level of skill of the deceiver is praised). It is this use of the word as a measure of high quality and high value that gives the term its flavor of subjectivity.

Making judgments of value requires a basis for criticism: a way to determine whether the impact of the object on the senses meets the criteria to be considered art, whether it is perceived to be ugly or beautiful. Perception is always colored by experience, so a reaction to art as 'ugly' or 'beautiful' is necessarily subjective.

Because of its elusive nature, "good" art is not always, or even regularly, appealing. In other words, it does not have to be "nice-looking", and often depicts terrible images made for social, moral, or thought-provoking reasons. Countless schools have proposed their own ways to define quality, yet they all seem to agree in at least one point: once their aesthetic choices are accepted, the value of the work of art is determined by its capacity to transcend the limits of its chosen medium in order to strike some universal chord (which, oddly enough, tends to be the most personal one).

Institutional definition

Many people's opinions of what art is would fall inside a relatively small range of accepted standards, or "institutional definition of art" (George Dickie 1974). This derives from education and other social factors. Most people did not consider the depiction of a Brillo Box or a store-bought urinal to be art until Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp (respectively) placed them in the context of art (i.e., the art gallery), which then provided the association of these objects with the values that define art.

Most viewers of these objects initially rejected such associations, because the objects did not, themselves, meet the accepted criteria. The objects needed to be absorbed into the general consensus of what art is before they achieved the near-universal acceptance as art in the contemporary era. Once accepted and viewed with a fresh eye, the smooth, white surfaces of Duchamp's urinal are strikingly similar to classical marble sculptural forms, whether the artist intended it or not. This type of recontextualizing provides the same spark of connection expected from any "good" art.


The work of painter Jackson Pollock was the result of dripping paint on a canvas, with percission, and brought into question the validity of much contemporary art (1960 to present) by those who did not understand it. To uneducated people, his work appears to be something that any three-year-old could easily do. There is often such consensus of agreement about what can be considered art. This consensus is static and continues over time because of man's stagnent ability to think beyond what he is told to think. Freedom expressed in such forms of art are diffcult for the general public as long as the public insists on following the "norms" of such a consensus and refuses to gain understanding beyond their own television set.

Social class

Art is often seen as belonging to one social class and excluding others. In this context, art is seen as a high-status activity associated with wealth, the ability to purchase art, and the leisure required to enjoy it. The palaces of Versailles or the Hermitage in St. Petersburg with their vast collections of art, amassed by the fabulously wealthy royalty of Europe exemplify this view. Collecting such art is the preserve of the rich.

However, there is a (not always deliberate) tradition of artists bringing their vision down to earth, and inhabiting a mundane, even poverty stricken, world. The life of Vincent van Gogh is a classic example of this starving artist tradition. It hardly needs to be mentioned, however, that few find such a state of existence desirable, and (bearing in mind that "poverty" in this sense also connotes a certain lack of public approval or appetite) that one of the near-defining characteristics of artists is a desire to be seen universally, if not always to be understood.

Before the 13th century in Europe, artisans were considered to belong to a lower caste, since they were essentially manual labourers. After Europe was re-exposed to classical culture during the Renaissance, particularly in the nation states of what is now Italy (Florence, Siena), artists gained an association with high status. However, arrangements of "fine" and expensive goods have always been used by institutions of power as marks of their own status. This is seen in the 20th and 21st century by the commissioning or purchasing of art by big businesses and corporations as decoration for their offices.

The use of art

There are many who ascribe to certain arts the quality of being non-utilitarian. This fits within the "art as good" system of definitions and suffers from a class prejudice against labor and utility. Opponents of this view argue that all human activity has some utilitarian function, and these objects claimed to be "non-utilitarian" actually have the rather mundane and banal utility of attempting to mystify and codify unworkable justifications for arbitrary social hierarchy.

Art is also used by clinical psychologists as art therapy. The end product is not the principal goal in this case; rather a process of healing, through creative acts, is sought.

The "use" of art from the artist’s standpoint is as a means of expression. When art is conceived as a device, it serves several context and perspective specific functions. From the artist’s perspective it allows one to symbolize complex ideas and emotions in an arbitrary language subject only to the interpretation of the self and peers.

In a social context, it can serve to soothe the soul and promote popular morale.

From a more anthropological prospective, it is a way of passing ideas and concepts on to later generations in a (somewhat) universal language. The interpretation of this language is very dependent upon the observer’s perspective and context. From a subjective perspective, art has many uses dependent upon the state of the mind that asks the question “what utility might art have?”


Some documentary photographs depicting un-posed "real life" are considered art worthy of hanging in galleries alongside fine art photography, even though such photographs seem to reproduce 'by machine' what a bystander could have seen with their own eyes. However, the reproduction is not neutral — the photographer first selected the subject and then framed the image in the viewfinder, chose when to press the button, and probably manipulated the picture after the exposure was made. The size of the final shown image was selected, as was the method of gallery display (a frame, etc). Thus some 'street' or documentary photography might be compared to the idea of found art, one of the goals of which was to recontextualize the art of everyday objects.


A common view is that art requires a creative and unique perception of both the artist and audience. For example, a common contemporary criticism of some modern painting might be, "my five-year old could have painted that" — implying that the work is somehow less worthy of the title art, either because the viewer fails to find meaning in the work, or because the work doesn't appear to have required any skill to produce. This view is often described as a lay critique and derives from the fact that in Western culture at least, art has traditionally been pushed in the direction of representationalism, the literal presentation of reality through literal images.

Art can connote a sense of trained ability or mastery of a medium. It can also simply refer to the developed and efficient use of a language so as to convey meaning, with immediacy and or depth.

Communicating emotion

Art appeals to human emotions. It can arouse aesthetic or moral feelings, and can be understood as a way of communicating these feelings. Artists have to express themselves so that their public is aroused, but they do not have to do so consciously. Art explores both human emotions and ways to arouse them — and good art brings something new and original in either of these two respects.

So called "folk", "visonary" artists almost always try to convey or appeal to emotions. While their work may often fall into the "my five-year-old could do that" category of art appreciation/criticism, their genuine desire to convey emotion or to impart moral/religious values has a place in the world of art. An example would be the art of Australian aborigine peoples.

Creative impulse

From one perspective, art is a generic term for any product of the creative impulse, out of which sprang all other human pursuits — such as science via alchemy, and religion via shamanism. The term 'art' offers no true definition besides those based within the cultural, historical and geographical context in which it is applied. Though to the artists themselves, the impulse to create is undeniable. An artist can no more deny that impulse than he/she could ignore breathing. It is because of the need to create that most artists have been called, crazy, emotionaly unstable, irresponsible, etc, etc. The critics seem to only want to give the title "Artist" to those who have created works of art that are "acceptable".

Development of symbols

Work with the influence of other artists of the past and present, much of the development of individual artists deals with finding principles for how to express certain ideas through various kinds of symbolism. For example, Vasily Kandinsky developed his use of color in painting through a system of stimulus response, where over time he gained an understanding of the emotions that can be evoked by color and combinations of color. Contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy, on the other hand, chose to use the medium of found natural objects and materials to arrange temporary sculptures.

Art as an entity

Definitions of art and aesthetic arguments usually proceed from one of several possible perspectives. Art may be defined by the intention of the artist as in the writings of Dewey. Art may be seen as being in the response/emotion of the viewer as Tolstoy claims. In Danto's view, it can be defined as a character of the item itself or as a function of an object's context. For Plato, art is imitation.

Forms of art

There are a variety of arts, including visual arts and design, decorative arts, plastic arts, and the performing arts. Artistic expression takes many forms, painting, drawing, sculpture, music, literature, performance art, printmaking, film, and possibly architecture are the most widely recognised forms. However, since the advent of modernism and the technological revolution, new forms have emerged. These include, photography, comics, video art, installation art, conceptual art, land art, computer art and, most recently, video games.

Within each form, a wide range of genres may exist. For instance, a painting may be a still life, a portrait, a landscape and may deal with historical or domestic subjects. In addition, a work of art may be representational or abstract.

Most forms of art fit under two main categories: fine arts and applied arts, though there is no clear dividing line. In the visual arts, fine arts refers to painting, sculpture, and architecture, arts which have no practical function and are valued in terms of the visual pleasure they provide or their success in communicating ideas or feelings. The one exception is architecture, which involves designing structures that strive to be both attractive and functional. The term applied arts is most often used to describe the design or decoration of functional objects to make them visually pleasing. Artists who create applied arts or crafts are usually referred to as designers, artisans, or craftspeople.

History of art

See main article: Art history

Art was also studied by psychologists such as Freud and M. Klein.

See also

Further reading

External links

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