What Is Art?

One of the many definitions of “art” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is:  “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced.”  I think most of us can agree that this is a satisfactory definition of what we think of as art, am I correct?

When you think of great artists, who first springs to your mind?  Monet, Da Vinci, Picasso?  How about Renoir or Van Gogh?

People generally think of art as something that is pleasing to the eye, such as a painting with beautiful colors and interesting subjects. The Louvre, the Guggenheim, MOMA in NYC,  Tate Museum, and Sistine Chapel are just a handful of places that house some of the most extraordinary pieces of art in the world.  People go to these places and put on airs, talking about brush strokes and the emotional impact of certain pieces.

And have you ever come across someone who feels the need to comment about what the artist was feeling while he or she was busy creating the work you’re admiring…or talking about?  I have.

Many years ago, I spoke with someone who shall remain nameless about the Van Gogh painting Starry Night.  He insisted that the swirls and twirls and dark colors he used indicated that he painted it during a period of great emotional stress on Van Gogh.  I replied that Van Gogh was mentally ill, after all,  so one can assume he was under a great deal of emotional stress more often than not.

Long story short, it irritates me when art snobs go around psychoanalyzing artists based on the brush strokes used in their paintings.  I dabble in art and I can tell you that I really don’t put a lot of thought into why I choose the brush strokes in one of my paintings or how hard I press the pencil against the page when I’m drawing a sketch.  The “Picasso was angry because he used red here” thing is bizarre and pretentious.  Darling, please get back to me when you’re qualified to psychoanalyze people.  I’d rather just enjoy the work and not hear some dolt rattle on about nonsense that really doesn’t matter when it comes to the finished product.

*sigh* So sorry, I just had to get that off my chest haha.  Now we can get back to what you consider art.

Do you consider this art?

Fountain from Marcel Duchamp

If you’re not familiar with the above piece, you’re probably thinking “WTH?  That’s not a work of art; that’s a urinal!”  Well, you’re right.  It is a urinal…a urinal that Marcel Duchamp picked up, signed with the name “R. Mutt, 1917”, called it Fountain, and put it in an exhibition in New York.  After stirring up much controversy (which I assume was Duchamp’s intent, especially since he had joined the anti-art/anti-war cultural movement called Dada), the piece was removed from the 1917 exhibition, but became one of Duchamp’s best known “readymade” pieces.  It’s one of my favorite things in the world.  Just because it was so bold and controversial.

Now certainly you consider Prosperine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti “art”, don’t you?

Proserpine, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

It’s a beautiful, dark portrait of Zeus’s daughter Persephone, queen of the underworld.  The model in the portrait was Jane Morris, the wife of fellow artist and writer William Morris.  She was also Rossetti’s lover for a time.  Rossetti and Morris were a part of the more respectable Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  They weren’t as controversial as the Dadaists, but if you look them up you will find that they had their own fair share of controversies, especially when it came to religious subjects.

Art is definitely one of my favorite subjects; I could talk about it forever if given the chance.  But I am going to close this post by asking, once again, what you consider art, and what your opinions are on the different movements.  Do you have any favorites?  Please feel free to tell me by leaving a reply below.

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