What Is Art?? Term Paper

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According to the Macquarie Dictionary, art is defined as: Human skill opposed to nature: creative skill in painting, poetry, music etc. However is this really a comprehensive definition? David Byrne is one person who has attempted to answer some of the questions associated with art. How is society related to art today? Would art exist in a perfect world? Who chooses the boundaries that confine art's value; its worth? How does the market effect the production of art? These questions do not have one solution; it is all based upon a matter of opinion. Different people view art from different perspectives and appreciate their personally preferred style. This essay will consider the opinion of different people on the indefinable question ' What is Art; Who Decide?'

It would be impossible for art to be defined in a single sentence, the feelings, emotions and significance of art is too great be summarized into words, however David Byrne has endeavored to investigate the intensity of this universal language. Byrne recognizes that it is distinctively mysterious and that it does not conform to any regulations. He explores the idea that art is an expression from the soul and that it "uses signs, sound, images and text to refer to the unsayable and ineffable" (Byrne: 1994. Pg 120) David Byrne implies that art is deceiving as it contains more than what is directly seen and is "a window to the mind and heart." (Byrne: 1994. Pg 120) Art is analyzed by Byrne as a result of life's inspiration and that it documents the absurdity and beauty of our chaotic exploration of the world. The completion of art, according to Byrne, is final when spectators view the art, whether appreciated or detested, " without the minds and senses on the receiving end, there is no art." (Byrne: 1994. Pg 120) Although some may not agree with David Byrne and his definitions, his insight into the world of art recognizes the individuality and complexity of this compelling visual language.

Art is one of the most accurate means of critiquing society, through the artists displaying society and the public absorbing the social reflection, art is a reflector of society. The community is exposed to art in many forms, the buildings we live in, the entertainment we enjoy are all forms of art, but art extends further, past these boundaries. Art bluntly shows the reality of life, it is the core of the population. Even if the general public avoids the truth of our society, art will accurately and relentlessly reveal the truth by portrayal of our world. According to artist, Jeanette Winterson, " Art has difficult and deep eyes and for many the gaze is too insistent. (Winterson: 1990) Many may consider some art to be meaningless, when the reality is that the audience does not spend the time to see and accept the messages being reflected within it. Winterson recognizes this in today's audience. " When was the last time you looked at anything solely, and concentratedly, and for it's own sake? Ordinary life passes in a near blur. If we go to the theatre or cinema, the images before us change constantly, and there is the distraction of the language. Our loved ones are so well known to us that there is no need to look at them, and one of the gentle jokes of marriage is that we do not. Nethertheless, here is a painting and we have agreed to look at it for one hour. We find we are not very good at looking." (Winterson: 1990)

If there were to be a perfect world, would art exist? Another question which lacks a definite answer. David Byrne believes that art would not continue in a perfect world. He states that " in a perfect world we would not need devices to focus our perceptions and thoughts." (Byrne: 1994. Pg 120) However in a survey conducted in the general public all participants felt that art would still thrive in a perfect world. The prevailing answer was that people still need to express their feelings and required art to display their emotions. One litigant responded with " Of course! Anyhow, how close can you get to perfection?" I felt this reflected an understanding of perfection - impossible. To reach perfection would be hopeless as every person's concept of a flawless society is divergent, consequently a state of perfection is impossible.

Today the pressure placed on artists from our society is quite significant. The pressure from the art market to produce art that conforms to market demand, is a major influence in the art world in this era. As during the Renaissance where art styles were constantly refined, artists struggle to yield the art that is desired on the markets. Society is being pressured to appreciate only art that has been approved by the critics. Barbara Kruger made the blunt statement " nothing exists outside the market place"

(Gablik; 1992. Pg 182). A sad but true actuality. Likewise the way art is exploited as an investment is a major downfall, the arts meaning and exquisite intricacy is being casually dismissed and is being bought solely on its financial worth. The film 'Basquait', outlines the powerbrokers in the valuing of art and dramatically revealed the struggle of one man on his quest to be recognized in the art market. To myself, the art market is reflected as a rather prejudiced scheme, art is judged not solely on its individual presentation but on the price markets have placed upon it and the name scrawled in the corner. Art deserves to be judged and criticized, but by only one person, the artist.

Art is the most universal aspect of our world, however the definition of art is yet to be discovered, and definitely never will be. The answer to this question will inevitably be discussed for centuries to follow. Every individual has a personal opinion on art and the world it resides in, the boundaries it exceeds. Society has an unavoidable dependence on art and will forever be reflected by art. Art will continue to remain sublimely within our culture and perhaps would remain to persevere in a perfect world. Hopefully in the future the art market will be converted and the prejudice prevailing within will be dissolved. The unanswerable question remains "What is Art; Who Decides?"


Byrne, David. World Art. Nov 1994

Gablik, Suzi. The Enchantment of Art. 1992. Thames Hudson

Winterson, Jeanette. Art Objects, Essay on Ecstasy and Effrontery. 1990

The Macquarie Dictionary. 1985. Jacaranda Press

Ms Anderson

By Holly Adby

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