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What Does Art Mean?

Art refers to anything that is made by someone who is considered to


be an artist; however the meaning of art continues to be debated.
KEY POINTS
The definition of art has evolved over time and varies based on context; anything can in fact be
art, and the term continues to evolve.
The nature of art has been described by philosopher Richard Wollheim as "one of the most elusive
of the traditional problems of human culture".
Art has been defined as a vehicle for the expression or communication of emotions and ideas, a
means for exploring and appreciating formal elements for their own sake, and as mimesis or
representation.
Art, at its simplest, is a form of communication. It means whatever it is intended to mean by the
artist herself, and this meaning is shaped by the materials, techniques, and forms of the art, as
well as the ideas and feelings it engenders in the viewer.
TERMS

mimesis

The representation of aspects of the real world, especially human actions, in literature and art.
EXAMPLES

Most people would not have considered the depiction of a Brillo Box or a store-bought urinal to be
art until Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp, respectively, placed those objects in the context of
art (i.e., an art gallery), which then associated these objects with a way that art could be defined.

FIGURES

1.
fig. 2

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol reconceptualized the meaning of art when he exhibited a Brillo Box in an art gallery. Warhol
demonstrated that what is often considered art is simply that which is exhibited in art galleries.

What is art?
How best to define art is still regularly debated. Many books and journal articles have argued over even
the basics of what we mean by calling something art. Theodor Adorno claimed, in 1969: It is self-evident
that nothing concerning art is self-evident. Artists, philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists, and
programmers all use the notion of art in their respective fields, yet give it considerably different
operational definitions. Furthermore, it is clear that even the basic meaning of the term "art" has changed
several times over the centuries, and is continuing to evolve during the 20th century as well. Most people
would not have considered the depiction of a Brillo Box or a store-bought urinal to be art until Andy
Warhol (Figure 1) and Marcel Duchamp, respectively, placed those objects in the context of art (i.e., an art
gallery), which then associated these objects with a way that art could be defined.
Art can refer to anything made by someone considered an artist, yet the definition of an artist has evolved
over time and varies based on context. In Ancient Greece, the term for art was techne, though that word
did not denote art in the modern sense and was instead applied to human activities, especially handicrafts
and technical work. The most esteemed ancient art forms were music and poetry, and those were
regarded as divinely inspired. Eventually, the idea of art expanded in scope to include literature, visual
art, performing art, and decorative art. But what exactly does art mean?

What does art mean?


The nature of art has been described by philosopher Richard Wollheim as "one of the most elusive of the
traditional problems of human culture". Art has been defined as a vehicle for the expression or
communication of emotions and ideas, a means for exploring and appreciating formal elements for their
own sake, and as mimesis or representation. Leo Tolstoy identified art as a use of indirect means to
communicate from one person to another. Benedetto Croce and R.G. Collingwood advanced the idealist
view that art expresses emotions, and that the work of art therefore essentially exists in the mind of the
creator. More recently, thinkers influenced by Martin Heidegger have interpreted art as the means by
which a community develops for itself a medium for self-expression and interpretation.
These are all ways of beginning to define a work of art, to narrow it down. Robertson and McDaniel
discuss the evaluation of meaning behind art in their book, Themes of Contemporary Art:

"Imagine you are an art critic whose mission is to compare the meanings you find in a wide range of
individual artworks. How would you proceed with your task? One way to begin is to examine the
materials each artist selected in making an object, image video, or event. The decision to cast a
sculpture in bronze, for instance, inevitably effects its meaning; the work becomes something
different from how it might be if it had been cast in gold or plastic or chocolate, even if everything
else about the artwork remains the same. Next, you might examine how the materials in each
artwork have become an arrangement of shapes, colors, textures, and lines. These, in turn, are
organized into various patterns and compositional structures. In your interpretation, you would
comment on how salient features of the form contribute to the overall meaning of the finished
artwork. ...the meaning of most artworks... is not exhausted by a discussion of materials, techniques,
and form. Most interpretations also include a discussion of the ideas and feelings the artwork
engenders." (Robertson & McDaniel, 2005.)
Art, at its simplest, is a form of communication. It means whatever it is intended to mean by the artist
herself, and this meaning is shaped by the materials, techniques, and forms of the art, as well as the ideas
and feelings it creates. Art can also simply refer to the developed and efficient use of a language to convey
meaning with immediacy and or depth. Art is an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and
observations. There is an understanding that is reached with the material as a result of handling it, which
facilitates one's thought processes.

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How Does Art Look?
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What Makes Art Beautiful?
KEY TERM GLOSSARY

bronze
A natural or man-made alloy of copper, usually of tin, but also with one or more other metals.

Appears in these related concepts:

Ife

Shang Dynasty

Bronze Sculpture

culture
The beliefs, values, behaviour and material objects that constitute a people's way of life.

Appears in these related concepts:

Liangzhu

Urbino

Contemporary African Art

form
In art, the shape or visible structure of an artistic expression.

Appears in these related concepts:

Tax-Supported Art

Mende

Baule

line
a path through two or more points

Appears in these related concepts:

Qualities of Line

Contour Line

Varieties of Line

medium
a material used by an artist or designer to create a work

Appears in these related concepts:

Categorizing Art

Gouache

Watercolor

mimesis
The representation of aspects of the real world, especially human actions, in literature and art.

Appears in this related concept:


Sculpture
The art of shaping figures or designs in the round or in relief, professionally performed by a sculptor.

Appears in these related concepts:

Sculpture in Rome

Tomb of Rudolf of Swabia

Sculpture

texture
The feel or shape of a surface or substance; the smoothness, roughness, softness, etc. of something.

Appears in these related concepts:

Texture and Pattern

What Makes Art Beautiful?

Varieties of Line

SOURCES

Boundless curates and validates high quality, openly licensed content from around the Internet.
This particular unit used the following sources:
"Andy Warhol by Jack Mitchell."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Andy_Warhol_by_Jack_Mitchell.jpg Wikipedia CC BY-SA.
"Art."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
"What Is Art?."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Art%253F Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
"Applied arts."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_arts Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.


"Fine art."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine_art Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
"mimesis."
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mimesis Wiktionary CC BY-SA 3.0.

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