Opinion: defining art

by Cougar News Contributor 644 views0

By Kiana Mosser

Art is one of those words that the meaning of has been altered and disputed many times over. That’s all very well – it can be reshaped and redefined at the single stroke of a pen. Some might say that you can’t define art just as you can’t define beauty, because it’s subjective. But even with a term that’s highly subjective, there tend to be general trends in how people depict it; if a word for a concrete thing were entirely subjective, there would be little reason for that word to exist, because every person would interpret it differently. So if it can be defined, what exactly is art?

When we hear the word “art”, usually the first thing that comes to mind is a painting of some sort. After all, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t agree that the Renaissance paintings hanging in a museum are art. But what about, as commonly joked about, how anyone can throw paint on a canvas or mount an empty soda can upside-down on a piece of plywood and claim that it’s “modern art” or “minimalist”?

The most important factor in deciding whether something is art is the thought, creativity, and/or expression behind it. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, art is defined as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”. It’s also important to remember that art isn’t created in a vacuum; it’s the manifestation of a person’s thoughts, which are influenced by the world around them, and there’s always a reason for the creation of a piece of art. A question that’s good to ask when figuring out the reason for its creation is, “Why did this person create this?” or “What was this person thinking when they created this?”

Art is a much broader subject than just painting; it comes in the form of many different mediums, including but not limited to music, writing, sculpture, film, animation, poetry, and even video games. In addition to the well-known mediums themselves, each of them have different genres (e.g. rock music) and subgenres (e.g. indie rock music) to take into account, and new mediums tend to pop up as well (although it’s not new now, film didn’t exist until the late 1880s), and some mediums that are considered art now weren’t considered art when they were first created. Because of how general mediums are, it’s best not to define art by its medium, but rather by what it expresses.

A common mistake people make when deciding whether something is art is to only take the medium into account, not the content itself; proclaiming, “Video games aren’t art!” is just as faulty as proclaiming, “That pencil you’re holding isn’t art!” The reason it’s invalid is that it targets the medium itself, not the art in question! Not everything created with a pencil is art – casually scribbling with the side of the graphite in a wooden pencil on a piece of paper to re-sharpen the tip might make a mark on the paper, but that mark made on the paper isn’t necessarily art because it wasn’t created with any intention to express a thought, feeling, or idea. It’s the same thing with video games as a medium; you can have a simple or fun game that isn’t intended to be thought-provoking, like Pong, or you can have a game with a well-thought out storyline/visual style/narrative/etc., as is the case with video games like Portal, Journey, Okami, and Bastion. The interactive nature of video games makes them a particularly effective art medium, since by playing one, you can immerse yourself in its world and its story.

Whatever the medium, in its purest form, art is the expression of an artist’s very soul, and through the reinterpretation of that expression by others, it has the power to touch their souls as well. It’s important to understand the power of an idea being brought to life through art because it can make the strongest man cry or bring down the most powerful of nations just the same as it can warm one’s heart or save a person from committing suicide.

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