What is Art?
Here’s my fast definition: art is an artificial act of creation that seeks to communicate subtle concepts to a given public.
Defining art is one of those obnoxious questions that can be so easily over-analyzed that it leaves no semblance of reasonable cognition. You had might as well go try and catch the wind in a basket before you capture a satisfying universal definition for the word. Go ask an Australian. They may talk about the Aussie golden age at the end of the 19th century with painters like Arthur Streeton and William Piguenit—men whose works were inspired by the open air of the great outback. The royal courts of Versailles, home to the great Sun King Louis XIV, point to a most important example of the great and diverse French artistic tradition. The Argentine has a rich independent film background perpetuated today in such films as The Motorcycle Diaries and The Secret in their Eyes. Kansans prefer C. M. Coolidge’s Dogs Playing Poker paintings. The point is that each people group carry their own customs for interaction and self-expression, shaped by their family, faith, and government. What’s the point? Aesthetics are relative. Absolutes are elusive. The arts are tricky to define. Nevertheless, I have decided upon a set of absolute rules (if such a thing exists) for defining what makes a work of art.
First, we must always remember the medium is the message. As you dress, smile, and smell, you will be perceived, onstage or on the street. This does not necessarily qualify the validity of your art, but positions the lens through which the work will be perceived. The polish of your shoes, the grade of paints you use, the size and quality of your television, all are important when presenting works of art. The frame around the painting will say as much about the work as the work itself.
Secondly, art is a willing suspension of disbelief. The public must have some sort of intuition that the work at hand does not readily exist in everyday moments. This inverse relationship between reality and presentation heightens the effectiveness of the said medium.
Daily we wake up, shower, eat, work, break, eat some more, maybe break again, go to sleep. This kind of routine surmises 2/3 of our day. Art must break from this sphere of everyday life to give people a taste of class, diversion, identity, and controversy. The best artists will carry an element of each. In my post about Kenny Garrett and Christian Lauba from 20-11-10, I talked about the refinement, invention, and popularity of a given art as the scientific method for determining its cultural impact. Follow the rules, do the math, embrace the system to beat the system.
Nevertheless, up to this point, I have effectively turned the path of an artist into a dictionary-defined, knowledge-based, research-oriented pile of sanitary hogwash.
If someone wants to be an artist, there is really only one rule to follow: be yourself. Find something you are passionate about and do it—really, really well. Understand yourself. Invest time in figuring out what makes you you and what makes you tick. Finally, seek to understand the world around you. It will guide your expressions and add rich sediments of erudition through your chosen medium. For all the analysis, people really don’t care so much about your thick layered paints and virtuosic technique. Hang out your humanity for them to see; the rest will speak for itself.