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About Art – What Do We Really Mean

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Mark Rothko, an American artist who described himself as an “abstract painter”, once said about art that he was not the kind of person interested in the relationship of form, colour or similar. He didn’t define himself as an abstractionist, but rather as a person interested only in expressing basic human emotions such as doom, tragedy, ecstasy and so on. This was one person’s vision of art, but what do we mean by art today? Why is defining the concept so difficult?

This article is an exploration of the meaning of art and an attempt to understand the relationship between art and artists, with some useful insights via interviews with both traditional and digital artists.

Further Reading On Smashing Mag:

  • Pop Art Is Alive: Classics and Modern Artworks
  • Milton Glaser on Art & Design
  • Eight Inspiring Stories Of ASCII Art
  • Modern Art Movements To Inspire Your Logo Design
  • Icons Of Digital Design

1. About Art – What Is It?

This question pops up often, and with many answers. Many argue that art cannot be defined. We could go about this in several ways. Art is often considered the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations and ways of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch known as aesthetics.

Art is generally understood as any activity or product done by people with a communicative or aesthetic purpose—something that expresses an idea, an emotion or, more generally, a world view.

It is a component of culture, reflecting economic and substrates in its design. It transmits ideas and values inherent in every culture across space and time. Its role changes through time, acquiring more of an aesthetic component here and a social educational function there.

Everything we’ve said so far has elements of truth but is mainly opinion. According to Wikipedia, “Art and philosophers of art have long had classificatory disputes about art regarding whether a particular cultural form or piece of work should be classified as art.”

The definition of art is open, subjective, debatable. There is no agreement among the artists, which is why we’re left with so many definitions of art. The concept itself has changed over centuries.

The very notion of art continues today to stir controversy, being so open to multiple interpretations. It can be taken simply to mean any human activity, or any set of rules needed to develop an activity. This would generalize the concept beyond what is normally understood as the fine arts, now broadened to encompass areas. The word has many other colloquial uses, too.

In this article, we mean art as a form of human expression of a creative nature .

While the definition of art has changed over the years, the field of art has developed to allow us to categorize changes in art over time and to better understand how art shapes and is shaped by the creative impulses of artists.

Having a solid grasp of art, then, is important. I spoke with Alexander Daniloff and Jonathan Ball about the concept of art through and about whether tracing a line through traditional and contemporary art is possible.

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