Although today the word art usually refers to the visual arts, the concept of what art is has continuously changed over centuries. Perhaps the most concise definition is its broadest—art refers to all creative human endeavors, excluding actions directly related to survival and reproduction. From a wide perspective, art is simply a generic term for the creative impulse, out of which sprang all other human pursuits such as science via alchemy, and religion via shamanism.
Artists, deliberately or not, work under the influence of other artists of the past and present. Much of the development of individual artists deals with finding structured principles for how to express certain ideas through various kinds of symbolism. For example, Vasily Kandinsky famously developed his use of color in painting through a system of stimulus response, where over time he gained an understanding of the emotions that can be evoked by color and combinations of color. Contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy, on the other hand, chose to use the medium of found natural objects and materials to arrange temporary sculptures; the only record of these sculptures brought back to the world comes in the form of a modest photograph.
The word art: derivation and usage
The word "art" comes from the Latin ars, which, loosely translated, means "arrangement" or "to arrange", though in many dictionaries you will simply find it tautologically translated as "art". This is the only universal definition of art—that whatever it is was at some point arranged in some way. A few examples where this meaning proves very broad include artifact, artifice, artillery, medical arts, and military arts. However, there are many other colloquial uses of the word, all with some relation to its etymological roots.
It is frequently argued that art cannot be defined, partly because people's standards for judging what is or is not art are completely subjective. Confusion about the meaning of the term derives from two sources: the first of these is that multiple meanings of the word are often used interchangeably in conversation. Secondly, confusion can stem from the fact that in the modern world, art is often seen as belonging to one class and excluding others. Art is seen as a high-status activity associated with wealth and the ability to purchase both works of art and the leisure required to enjoy them. Much of the confusion about what can be or cannot be deemed art comes from an unconsidered use of the word to describe things or people as good or bad, as in such expressions as "(that meal was) a work of art" or "the art of deception". It is this use of the word as an absolute measure of quality or value that gives the term its appearance of subjectivity.
In addition, most people's choices of what is art fall well in line with generally accepted standards deriving from education and other social factors. Most people did not consider the depiction of a Brillo Box or a store-bought urinal to be art until Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp placed them in a specific context, ie. the art gallery, which then inherently associated the objects with the values that usually define something as art. This, so called "institutional definition of art" was expressed for the first time by George Dickie in 1974. Indeed, most viewers of these objects initially rejected such associations, as the objects did not, themselves, meet the accepted criteria. It required that the objects be absorbed into the general consensus of what art is for them to achieve the near-universal acceptance as art they enjoy today. Once accepted and viewed with a fresh eye the smooth, white surfaces of Duchamp's urinal are strikingly similar to classical marble sculptural forms, whether the artist intended it or not. This type of recontextualizing provides the same spark of connection that we expect from any 'good' art.
Given the present association of art with status, it is somewhat ironic to note that previous to the 14th century in Europe, artisans were considered as being of a lower caste, since they laboured with their hands. It was only after Europe was re-exposed to Classical culture that artists gained their current association with high status, though arrangements of 'fine' and expensive goods have always been used by institutions of power as marks of their own status. This can still be seen in the commissioning or purchasing of art by big businesses and corporations as decoration for their offices.
Art as an entity
Definitions of art and aesthetic arguments usually proceed from one of several possible perspectives. Art may be defined by the intention of the artist as in the writings of Dewey. Art may be seen as being in the response/emotion of the viewer as Tolstoy claims. In Danto's view, it can be defined as a character of the item itself or as a function of an object's context. For Plato, art is imitation. Obviously, there is validity in each of these perspectives and any useful definition of art must, at minimum, address all these categories.
There is wide disagreement over what constitutes art, and there is no single definition that is widely agreed upon. A common view is that art requires a creative and unique perception of both the artist and audience. For example, a common contemporary criticism of some modern painting might be, 'my five-year old could have painted that' — implying that the work is somehow less worthy of the title art, either because the viewer fails to find meaning in the work, or because the work does not appear to have required any skill to produce. This view is often described as a lay critique and derives from the fact that in Western culture at least, art has traditionally been pushed in the direction of representationalism, the literal presentation of reality through literal images.
Art can connote a sense of trained ability or mastery of a medium. It can also simply refer to the developed and efficient use of a language so as to convey meaning, with immediacy and or depth. Making this judgment requires a basis for criticism: a way to determine whether the impact of the object on the senses meets the criteria to be considered art, whether it is perceived to be ugly or beautiful. Perception is always colored by experience, so a reaction to art as 'ugly' or 'beautiful' is necessarily subjective. Countless schools have each proposed their own ways to define quality, yet they all seem to agree in at least one point: once their aesthetic choices have been accepted, the value of the work of art is determined by its capacity to transcend the limits of its chosen medium in order to strike some universal chord (which, oddly enough, tends to be the most personal one).
Art also appeals to human emotions. It can arouse aesthetic or moral feelings, and can be understood as a way of communicating these feelings. Artists have to express themselves so that their public is aroused, but they do not have to do so consciously. Art explores both human emotions and ways to arouse them — and good art brings something new and original in either of these two respects.
Consider photography. Are photographs of un-posed 'real life' to be considered art? The common answer is overwhelmingly yes, even though many of these photographs simply seek to reproduce by machine what people can see with their own eyes. However, the reproduction is not neutral — a selection is being made by the artist. This is also one of the goals of found art: to recontextualize the art of everyday objects.
Different forms of art
There are a variety of Arts, including visual arts and design, decorative arts, plastic arts, and the performing arts. Artistic expression takes many forms, painting, drawing, sculpture, music, performance art and possibly architecture are the most widely recognised forms. However, since the advent of modernism and the technological revolution, new forms have emerged. These include film, photography, comics, video art, installation art, conceptual art, and computer art.
Within each form, a wide range of genres may exist. For instance, a painting may be a still life, a portrait, a landscape and may deal with historical or domestic subjects. In addition, a work of art may be representational or abstract.
The use of art
There are many who ascribe to certain arts the quality of being non-utilitarian. This fits within the 'art as good' system of definitions and suffers from a class prejudice against labor and utility. Opponents of this view argue that all human activity has some utilitarian function, and these objects claimed to be 'non-utilitarian' actually have the rather mundane and banal utility of attempting to mystify and codify unworkable justifications for arbitrary social hierarchy.
The history of art
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