What is Art?

In his essay What is Art? Leo Tolstoy said: ‘In order correctly to define art, it is necessary first of all to cease to consider it as a means of pleasure and consider it as one of the conditions of human life.”

The definition of art is something that we have toiled over for many years. Written in Athens around 380BC, Plato’s Republic, Book X referenced a conversation between Glaucon and Socrates concerning the definition of art.

Socrates is thought to have said: “Which is the art of painting designed to be – an imitation of things as they are, or as they appear – of appearance or of reality?”

It was noted by Grayson Perry, one of the UK’s best known contemporary artists, that “asking the question ‘What is art?’ in the art world is to risk eye-rolling and even hostility.”

It would seem that everyone defines art differently. When you do ask the question “what is art?” in the art world, you receive countless different answers.

One artist said: “Does it look like a duck? Does it sound like a duck? Does it taste like a duck? Like a duck, art is hard to explain.”

The majority of those in the art community believe that expression is a key theme in the definition of art.

“At its core art is about the expression of thoughts, ideas, emotions and beauty, so I believe it could technically be anything you want it to be.”

“Self-expression. I might add creative self-expression but I’m not sold that the ‘creative’ is needed.”

“Art is a means of expressing and communicating ideas, ideologies, identities and interests through a creative medium, both visual and non-visual.”

Expressing yourself, your emotions, or your ideas through different mediums.”

“I believe art is merely a way to express yourself, to put into the world what is on your mind.”

“An expression of something that produces a work or piece, that is art.”

“Any form of expression, whether it be a paining on a canvas, a sketch drawn with any sort of medium any sort of graphic design, even sculpting, writing, animating, and even interior designing in an art form. Anything where you have expressed something is a form of art.”

“Art is an expression of emotion or experiences through a medium.”

“Art is anything that allows an emotional expression. The medium it takes is irrelevant. It might be our traditional ideal of oil on canvas, but a print or digitally create comic strip is just as valid. Fashion and writing are valid in the same way.”

Who is to say which one of these definitions is the right one? Art is universally subjective, and is ultimately dependent on personal experience.

Art’s interpretation changes from person to person, and perhaps that is its definition; ever-changing.

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