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Defining Art

Defining Art

By Juby John

Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

“ Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of some pleasing objects; and above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings , and indispensable for the  life and progress towards well being of individuals and of humanity”, said Leo Tolstoy in his essay called ‘What is art?’

Art plays a large part in making our lives infinitely rich. Imagine just for a minute a world without art! I guess we can’t even imagine it. Art stimulates different parts of our brain to make us laugh or incite us to riot, with a whole gamut of emotions in between. Art gives us a way to be creative and express ourselves. For some people, art is the entire reason why they get out of bed every morning. You could say, ‘art is something that makes us more thoughtful and well rounded humans.’

Let’s have a look at art through four directions:

ART AS REPRESENTATION: In this definition, art seems to convey an objective, truthful vision of one’s surrounding. Representational art paintings can range from sharp clarity- so sharp it seems you are looking at a photograph- to slightly softer realistic paintings. Art as representation was the prevalent definition until the 1850s, when photography became more widely used.

ART AS EXPRESSION: Once photography became prevalent and could easily capture reality, art became more about what the artist had to say about his or her subject than the subject itself. Impressionism falls in this category. Art using this definition can still be representational, but the works are about the artists’ interpretations of what they see- how light falls on their subject.

ART AS FORM: When using this definition, the emphasis is not on what is being represented or expressed, but rather on its form and sheer beauty: Lines, shapes, colours and interplay.

ART AS INSTITUTION: This is the broadest definition of art, where a piece is considered art simply because the art world has accepted it as such and welcomed it inside its’ galleries. By this definition, art needn’t be the product of an artist’s hands or be beautiful or emotionally expressive.This definition of found object as art is controversial because the work isn’t trying to be art, but rather to challenge what we considered art itself to be. It’s also controversial because there is no ultimate standard by which to judge whether it is good or bad.

Although if we study the history of ‘art’, it focuses primarily on visual art, which includes the creation of images or objects in field including painting, sculpture and photography etc. Art has become broader;it is a way of communication and expression.

I remember professor Rajeev Lochan, current director of the National Gallery of Modern Art, shouting in an interview that ‘art tells us what we are’.

The Newspaper Association of America foundation says that, ‘art can be beautiful, art can be frightening, art can be provocative, art can tell a story, art can lighten our mood or make us feel better, art can make us think, art can change our lives’.

Thus, art is not any one thing, because it is a way, a way of life.

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