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A Question Not Worth Asking

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Art- noun- [ahart] –

1.the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

2.the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.  See fine art, commercial art.

3. A field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.

4. The fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.

5. Any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art.

This is a word that we encounter multiple times a day. It is a large part of our vocabulary. Yet, when someone asks us to define “art” most of us are found speechless.

“What is art?” This is a question that is constantly plaguing artists. Whether we ask it or someone is asking us, it is a debate that has been going on for centuries and one that will continue to go on. In fact, this question is still very much alive and causing frequent conversation amongst artists everywhere.

As I opened the webpage The Brooklyn Rail, the first article that caught my eye was the headline “What is art- and why even ask?” This article, written by Carter Ratcliff, that explains what Ratcliff’s definition of art is. It was one of the first times that I had read someone’s personal definition of art and didn’t hate it. He talks about how a “work of art must be endlessly interpretable.” Now, at first I was a little apprehensive to agree with this because wouldn’t that then mean that half our world was art, by his definition? I mean, yes, technically, but as Ratcliff continued to explain his definition of art it became clear that this was merely the best way that he could sum up his ideas.

Art is a lot of different things, but it is first and foremost the artist’s process. All art is created out of some kind of artistic “vision”. It is this process that an artists goes through that creates something that is, in some way or another, tangible. This process is then shared and can then be interpreted by the viewers or listener. That is art.

Most pieces of art can be dissected and discussed; but does that make it art because some person went through a process to make it? Wouldn’t that mean that any person in a factory is also an artist? Wouldn’t that make everyone an artist? I don’t know, and that is a large reason as to why I read Ratcliff’s article in the first place.

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Freshman year of college, my Drama lit professor, Ilana Brownstein, asked us to create a manifesto around what our definition of art was. I had no idea. None. Heck, I still don’t, but I think that’s the beauty of the definition of art- it is constantly changing depending on what artistic process you are going though at that specific time in your life and in that moment that someone asks you to define “art.”

The definition of this word will continuously change. I think we will have more to worry about when we begin to find that we have a solid definition for what art is. I think the bigger question that should be asked is why did we need to define art? Why can’t it just be? And although I am sitting here asking you why we feel we must define this word, I do think it is important to sit yourself down and ask yourself, “What is my definition of art today?” Perhaps it will help you better understand what you are standing for as an artist at this very moment in your career.

So I leave you with this,

What is art?

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