Written by: Joshua Carreon
What is art? The dictionary definition is simply: "The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power." On a deeper more philosophical level however, the answer is still hotly debated. What makes good art and is “good” subjective or objective? Is beauty something you can quantify or is it in the eye of the beholder? Furthermore, what is the purpose of art, and how do we tell if the purpose has been fulfilled? Finally, to whom should society turn to for these answers?
So, what is art? According to Sol LeWitt, an American artist, “Ideas alone can be works of art…. All ideas need not be made physical.…A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist’s mind to the viewer’s. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist’s mind.” Much of modern art seems to fit this definition, such as Robert Rauschenberg’s “All white painting”. (1) In contrast Frank Lloyd Wright states that rather “Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.” This can be seen in Raphael’s intricately crafted “School of Athens” (2)
How do we determine the quality of art? I am of the opinion of Jakob Rosenberg who argued that artistic quality, “is not merely a matter of personal opinion but to a high degree . . . objectively traceable.” For example, it is clear to me that Giovanni Battista Salvi’s depiction of Madonna (3) is superior to that of Chris Ofili’s (4) which utilized pornographic images and elephant dung. Salvi’s Madonna was capable of evoking emotions without resorting to the scatological or crude in addition to being naturally beautiful and un-reliant on long winded explanations.
Regarding the purpose of art, both classicalist and modernist artists seem to agree that it is to depict some idea, emotion, image, or opinion. This is sometimes presented in drastically different ways. One such example is in the contrasting depictions of the ascent to manhood seen in both Henri Matisse’s “The Piano Lesson” (5) and Thomas Cole’s “The Voyage of Life: Manhood”. (6)
When looking for the answers to all these questions I argue that we not just to turn the “art community” but also everyday people. The input of the farmer is just as important and valid as the philosopher or academic. I urge everyone to engage in the dialogue and to talk about art. Support museums who exhibit art you like and avoid museums you dislike, make your voices heard!
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Images sourced from wikipedia, wikiart, and wikimedia commons. "All White Painting" image sourced from www.flashahead.com
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One of the best things about art is the conversations they can spark. What do you think about what Joshua Carreon has to say? Do you agree or disagree? What are some of your favorite examples of classical and modern art? Comment below, or join the discussion on facebook and twitter!