Serious Question: What is Art?

Art: What is it?

Over the years I have struggled with what art actually is. Is it something beautiful? Is it everything we make or do? According to Miriam Webster it’s a few things:

  1. a skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. a branch of learning
  3. an occupation requiring knowledge or skill
  4. the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects
  5. decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

Up until college I had always taken a conservative approach to art. If it was well-painted, beautiful and had a clear message, then I considered it art. And that does still hold some truth to it, but when I went to college, I had a professor who totally changed how I looked at art–and everything else around me. I remember a discussion I had with him on this topic: I was arguing that just because someone says something is “art” doesn’t mean it is because art is supposed to be beautiful. Art is supposed to be a display of skill and hard work; it’s supposed to tell a story. He countered by tossing the contents of a trashcan onto the floor and declaring it beautiful, so to him, it was art. I was appalled until my professor proceeded to explain the story this trash had to tell–a dirty paper towel cleaned the brush of an artist who was working on their masterpiece; the artist was hard at work and couldn’t break away so they ate the chips and drank the water for sustenance; the crunched up piece of paper was a rejection email they tossed because they knew that one day they would silence their critics by working hard and getting better at their craft.

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