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Art

Art

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Image:Cassatt the bath.jpg
The Bath, a painting by Mary Cassatt (1891-1892).

The modern use of the word, which rose to prominence after 1750, “art” is commonly understood to be skill used to produce an aesthetic result (Hatcher, 1999). Britannica Online defines it as "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others"[1]. By any of these definitions of the word, artistic works have existed for almost as long as humankind, from early pre-historic art to contemporary art.

Contents

Defining art

How best to define the term “art” is a subject of much contention; many books and journal articles have been published arguing over even the basics of what we mean by the term “art” (Davies, 1991 and Carroll, 2000). Theodor Adorno claimed in 1969 “It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident any more.” (Danto, 2003).

The first broadest sense of “art” is the one that has stayed closest to the older Latin meaning, which roughly translates to "skill" or "craft", and also from an Indo-European root meaning "arrangement" or "to arrange". In this sense, art is whatever is described as having undergone a deliberate process of arrangement by an agent. A few examples where this meaning proves very broad include artifact, artificial, artifice, artillery, medical arts, and military arts. However, there are many other colloquial uses of the word, all with some relation to its etymology.

The second, more recent, sense of the word “art” is roughly as an abbreviation for creative art or “fine art.” Here we mean that skill is being used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of the “finer” things. Often, if the skill is being used in a lowbrow or practical way, people will consider it a craft instead of art. Likewise, if the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way, it will be considered Commercial art instead of art. On the other hand, crafts and design are sometimes considered applied art. Some thinkers have argued that the difference between fine art and applied art has more to do with value judgments made about the art than any clear definitional difference (Novitz, 1992). However, even fine art often has goals beyond just pure creativity and self-expression. The purpose of works of art may be to communicate ideas, such as in politically-, spiritually-, or philosophically-motivated art, to create a sense of beauty (see “aesthetics”), to explore the nature of perception, for pleasure, or to generate strong emotions. The purpose may also be seemingly nonexistent.

The ultimate derivation of 'fine' in 'fine art' comes from the ancient Greek philosophy of Aristotle, who proposed four causes or explanations of a thing. The Final Cause of a thing is the purpose for its existence, and the term 'fine art' is derived from this notion. If the Final Cause of an artwork is simply the artwork itself, "art for art's sake", and not a means to another end, then that artwork could appropriately be called 'fine'. The closely related concept of beauty is classically defined as "that which when seen, pleases". Pleasure is the Final Cause of beauty, and so is not a means to another end, but is an end in itself.

Art can describe several kinds of things: a study of creative skill, a process of using the creative skill, a product of the creative skill, or the audience’s experiencing of the creative skill. The creative arts (“art”’ as discipline) are a collection of disciplines (“arts”) which produce artworks (“art” as objects) that is compelled by a personal drive (“art” as activity) and echoes or reflects a message, mood, or symbolism for the viewer to interpret (“art” as experience).

Theories of art

Aesthetics, or the philosophy of art, often engages in disputes about the best way to define art.

General pictures of the nature of art are called “theories of art.” Many have argued that it is a mistake to even try to define art or beauty, that they have no essence, and so can have no definition. Often, it is said that art is a cluster of related concepts rather than a single concept. Examples of this approach include Morris Weitz and Berys Gaut.

Another approach is to say that “art” is basically a sociological category, that whatever art schools and museums, and artists get away with is considered art regardless of formal definitions. This "institutional definition of art" has been championed by George Dickie. 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 (respectively) placed them in the context of art (i.e., the art gallery), which then provided the association of these objects with the values that define art. The placement of an object in an artistic context is a common characteristic of conceptual art, prevalent since the 1960s; notably, the Stuckist art movement criticizes this tendency of recent art.

Proceduralists often suggest that it is the process by which a work of art is created or viewed that makes it, art, not any inherent feature of an object, or how well received it is by the institutions of the art world after its introduction to society at large. For John Dewey, for instance, if the writer intended a piece to be a poem, it is one whether other poets acknowledge it or not. Whereas if exactly the same set of word was written by a journalist, intending them as shorthand notes to help him write a longer article latter, these would not be a poem. Leo Tolstoy, on the other hand, claims that what makes something art or not is how it is experienced by its audience, not by the intention of its creator. Functionalists, like Monroe Beardsley argue that whether or not a piece counts as art depends on what function it plays in a particular context, the same Greek vase may play a non-artistic function in one context (carrying wine), and an artistic function in another context (helping us to appreciate the beauty of the human figure).

Art and class

Image:VersaillesCourHonneur.jpg
Versailles: Louis Le Vau opened up the interior court to create the expansive entrance cour d'honneur, later copied all over Europe
Art is often seen as belonging to one social class and excluding others. In this context, art is seen as a high-status activity associated with wealth, the ability to purchase art, and the leisure required to pursue or enjoy it. The palaces of Versailles or the Hermitage in St. Petersburg with their vast collections of art, amassed by the fabulously wealthy royalty of Europe exemplify this view. Collecting such art is the preserve of the rich, in one viewpoint. Before the 13th century in Europe, artisans were often considered to belong to a lower caste, however during the Renaissance artists gained an association with high status. "Fine" and expensive goods have been popular markers of status in many cultures, and continue to be so today. At least one of the important functions of art in the 21st century is as a marker of wealth and social status.

Utility of art

Often one of the defining characteristics of fine art as opposed to applied art, is the absence of any clear usefulness or utilitarian value. But this requirement is sometimes criticized as being a class prejudice against labor and utility. Opponents of the view that art cannot be useful, argue that all human activity has some utilitarian function, and the objects claimed to be "non-utilitarian" actually have the function of attempting to mystify and codify flawed social hierarchies. It is also sometimes argued that even seemingly non-useful art is not useless, but rather that its use is the effect it has on the psyche of the creator or viewer.

Art is also used by art therapists, psychotherapists and clinical psychologists as art therapy. The end product is not the principal goal in this case; rather a process of healing, through creative acts, is sought. The resultant piece of artwork may also offer insight into the troubles experienced by the subject and may suggest suitable approaches to be used in more conventional forms of psychiatric therapy.

Graffiti, a kind of art considered by some to be vandalism, as it is mostly known from being painted illicitly on buildings, buses, trains, bridges and suchlike. The "use" of art from the artist’s standpoint could be as a means of expression. It allows one to symbolize complex ideas and emotions in an arbitrary language subject only to the interpretation of the self and peers.

In a social context, it can serve to soothe the soul and promote popular morale. In a more negative aspect of this facet, art is often utilised as a form of propaganda, and thus can be used to subtly influence popular conceptions or mood (in some cases, artworks are appropriated to be used in this manner, without the creator's initial intention).

From a more anthropological perspective, art is often a way of passing ideas and concepts on to later generations in a (somewhat) universal language. The interpretation of this language is very dependent upon the observer’s perspective and context, and it might be argued that the very subjectivity of art demonstrates its importance in providing an arena in which rival ideas might be exchanged and discussed, or to provide a social context in which disparate groups of people might congregate and mingle.

Classification disputes about art

Main articles: Classificatory disputes about art, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

It is common in the history of art for people to dispute about whether a particular form or work, or particular piece of work counts as art or not. Philosophers of Art call these disputes “classificatory disputes about art.” For example, Ancient Greek philosophers debated about whether or not ethics should be considered the “art of living well.” Classificatory disputes in the 20th century included: cubist and impressionist paintings, Duchamp’s urinal, the movies, superlative imitations of banknotes, propaganda, and even a crucifix immersed in urine. Conceptual art often intentionally pushes the boundaries of what counts as art and a number of recent conceptual artists, such as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin have produced works about which there are active disputes. Video games and role-playing games are both fields where some recent critics have asserted that they do count as art, and some have asserted that they do not.

Philosopher David Novitz has argued that disagreement about the definition of art, are rarely the heart of the problem, rather that “the passionate concerns and interests that humans vest in their social life” are “so much a part of all classificatory disputes about art” (Novitz, 1996). According to Novitz, classificatory disputes are more often disputes about our values and where we are trying to go with our society than they are about theory proper. For example, when the Daily Mail criticized Hirst and Enim’s work by arguing "For 1,000 years art has been one of our great civilising forces. Today, pickled sheep and soiled beds threaten to make barbarians of us all" they are not advancing a definition or theory about art, but questioning the value of Hirst’s and Enim’s work.

Controversial art

Famous examples of controversial European art of the 19th century include Theodore Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa" (1820), construed by many as a blistering condemnation of the French government's gross negligence in the matter, Edouard Manet's "Le D'jeuner sur l'Herbe" (1863), considered scandalous not because of the nude woman, but because she is seated next to fully-dressed men, and John Singer Sargent's "Madame Pierre Gautreau (Madam X)", (1884) which caused a huge uproar over the reddish pink used to color the woman's ear lobe, considered way too suggestive and supposedly ruining the high-society model's reputation.

In the 20th century, examples of high-profile controversial art include Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" (1937), considered by most at the time as the primitive output of a madman, this the sole explanation for its 'hodgepodge of body parts' and Leon Golub's "Interrogation III" (1958), shocking the American conscience with a nude, hooded detainee strapped to a chair, surrounded by several ever-so-normal looking "cop" interrogators.

In 2001, Eric Fischl created "Tumbling Woman" as a memorial to those who jumped or fell to their death on 9/11. Initially installed at Rockefeller Center in New York City, within a year the work was removed as too disturbing. Link to images of these controversial art examples

Forms, genres, mediums, and styles

Image:MonaLisa sfumato.jpeg
Detail of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, showing the painting technique of sfumato
The creative arts are often divided into more specific categories, such as decorative arts, plastic arts, performing arts, or literature. So for example painting is a form of decorative art, and poetry is a form of literature.

An art form is a specific form for artistic expression to take, it is a more specific term than art in general, but less specific than “genre.” Some examples include, but are by no means, limited to:

A genre is a set of conventions and styles for pursuing an art form. For instance, a painting may be a still life, an abstract, a portrait, or a landscape, and may also deal with historical or domestic subjects. The boundaries between form and genre can be quite fluid. So, for example, it is not clear whether song lyrics are best thought of as an art form distinct from poetry, or a genre within poetry. Is cinematography a genre of photography (perhaps “motion photography”) or is it a distinct form?

An artistic medium is the substance the artistic work is made out of. So for example stone and bronze are both mediums that sculpture uses sometimes. Multiple forms can share a medium (poetry and music, both use sound), or one form can use multiple media.
Image:GreatWave.jpg
The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849), colored woodcut print
An artwork or artist’s style is a particular approach they take to their art. Sometimes style embodies a particular artistic philosophy or goal, we might describe Joy Division as Minimalist in style, in this sense, for example. Sometimes style is intimately linked with a particular historical period, or a particular artistic movement. So we might describe Dali’s paintings as Surrealist in style in this sense. Sometimes style is linked to a technique used, or an effect produced, so we might describe a Roy Lichtenstein painting as pointillist, because of its use of small dots, even thought it is not aligned with the original proponents of Pointillism.

Many terms used to describe art, especially recent art, are hard to categorize as forms, genres, or styles; or such categorizations are disputed. No one doubts there is such a thing as land art, but is it best thought of as a distinct form of art? Or, perhaps, as a genre of architecture? Or perhaps as a style within the genre of landscape architecture? Are comics an art form, medium, genre, style, or perhaps more than one of these?

Art History

Main articles: History of Art, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

Art predates history; we have found sculptures, cave paintings, rock paintings and petroglyphs from the upper paleolithic starting roughly 40,000 years ago, but the precise meaning of such art is often disputed because we know so little with firmness about the cultures that produced them.

The great traditions in art have a foundation in the art of one of the six great ancient civilizations: Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, India, or China. Each of these centers of early civilization developed a unique and characteristic style in their art. Because of their size and duration these civilizations, more of their art works have survived and more of their influence has been transmitted to other cultures and later times. They have also provided us with the first records of how artists worked. For example, this period of Greek art saw a veneration of the human physical form and the development of equivalent skills to show musculature, poise, beauty and anatomically correct proportions

In Byzantine and Gothic art of the Western Middle Ages, art focused on the expression of Biblical and not material truths, and emphasized. methods which would show the higher unseen glory of a heavenly world, such as the use of gold in paintings, or glass in mosaics or windows, which also presented figures in idealised, patterned (i.e. "flat" forms).

Image:Tugra Mahmuds II.gif
The stylized signature of Sultan Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire was written in an expressive calligraphy. It reads Mahmud Khan son of Abdulhamid is forever victorious.

The western Renaissance saw a return to valuation of the material world, and the place of humans in it, and this paradigm shift is reflected in art forms, which show the corporeality of the human body, and the three dimensional reality of landscape.

In the east, Islam’s rejection of iconography led to emphasis on geometric patterns, calligraphy, calligraphy, and architecture. Further east, religion dominated artistic styles and forms too. India and Tibet saw emphasis on painted sculptures and dance with religious painting borrowing many conventions from sculpture and tending to bright contrasting colors with emphasis on outlines. China saw many art forms flourish, jade carving, bronzework, pottery (including the stunning terracotta army of Emperor Qin), poetry, calligraphy, music, painting, drama, fiction, etc. Chinese styles vary greatly from era to era and are traditionally named after the ruling dynasty. So, for example, Tang dynasty paintings are monochromatic and sparse, emphasizing idealized landscapes, but Ming dynasty paintings are busy, colorful, and focus on telling stories via setting and composition. Japan names its styles after imperial dynasties too, and also saw much interplay between the styles of calligraphy and painting. Woodblock printing became important in Japan after the 17th century.

The western “Age of Enlightenment” in the 18th century, saw artistic depictions of physical and rational certainties of the clockwork universe, as well as politically revolutionary visions of a post-monarchist world, such as Blake’s portrayal of Newton as a divine geometer, or David’s propagandistic paintings. But this led to Romantic rejections of this in favor of pictures of the emotional side and individuality of humans, exemplified in the novels of Goethe and the music of Mozart. The late 19th century then saw a host of artistic movements, symbolism, Impressionism, fauvism, etc.

By the 20th century these pictures were falling apart, shattered not only by new discoveries of relativity by Einstein [1] and of unseen psychology by Freud, [2] but also by unprecedented technological development accelerated by the implosion of civilisation in two world wars. The history of twentieth century art is a narrative of endless possibilities and the search for new standards, each being torn down in succession by the next. Thus the parameters of Impressionism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, etc cannot be maintained very much beyond the time of their invention. Increasing global interaction during this time saw an equivalent influence of other cultures into Western art, such as Pablo Picasso being influenced by African sculpture. Japanese woodblock prints (which had themselves been influenced by Western Renaissance draftsmanship) had an immense influence on Impressionism and subsequent development. Then African sculptures were taken up by Picasso and to some extent by Matisse. Similarly, the west has had huge impacts on Eastern art in 19th and 20th century, with originally western ideas like Communism and Post-Modernism exerting powerful influence on artistic styles.

Image:Roy Lichtenstein House I.jpg
House I, created by Roy Lichtenstein in 1996, is designed to be an optical illusion. The house is inverted; the point that seems to be the nearest corner is actually the farthest from the viewer.
Modernism, the idealistic search for truth, gave way in the latter half of the 20th century to a realization of its unattainability. Relativity was accepted as an unavoidable truth, which led to the Postmodern period, where cultures of the world and of history are seen as changing forms, which can be appreciated and drawn from only with irony. Furthermore the separation of cultures is increasingly blurred and it is now more appropriate to think in terms of a global culture, rather than regional cultures.

Characteristics of art

Here are some common characteristics that art often displays, it:

  • encourages an intuitive understanding rather than a rational understanding, as, for example, with an article in a scientific journal;
  • was created with the intention of evoking such an understanding or an attempt at such an understanding in the audience;
  • was created with no other purpose or function other than to be itself (a radical, "pure art" definition);
  • is elusive, in that the work may communicate on many different levels of appreciation; For example,in the case of Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, special knowledge concerning the shipwreck that the painting depicts, is not a prerequisite to appreciating it, but allows the appreciation of Gericault's political intentions in the piece.
  • may offer itself to many different interpretations, or, though it superficially depicts a mundane event or object, invites reflection upon elevated themes;
  • demonstrates a high level of ability or fluency within a medium; this characteristic might be considered a point of contention, since many modern artists (most notably, conceptual artists) do not themselves create the works they conceive, or do not even create the work in a conventional, demonstrative sense (one might think of Tracey Emin's controversial My Bed);
  • confers particularly appealing or aesthetically satisfying structures or forms upon an original set of unrelated, passive constituents.

Skill

Art can connote a sense of trained ability or mastery of a medium. An example of this is the contemporary young master Josignacio, creator of Plastic Paint Medium. Art can also simply refer to the developed and efficient use of a language to convey meaning with immediacy and or depth.

A common view is that the epithet “art”, particular in its elevated sense, requires a certain level of creative expertise by the artist, whether this be a demonstration of technical ability (such as one might find in many works of the Rennaissance) or an originality in stylistic approach such as in the plays of Shakespeare, or a combination of these two. For example, a common contemporary criticism of some modern art occurs along the lines of objecting to the apparent lack of skill or ability required in the production of the artistic object. One might take Tracey Emin's My Bed, or Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, as examples of pieces wherein the artist exercised little to no traditionally recognised set of skills, but may be said to have innovated by exercising skill in manipulating the mass media as a medium. In the first case, Emin simply slept (and engaged in other activities) in her bed before placing the result in a gallery. She has been insistent that there is a high degree of selection and arrangement in this work, which include objects such as underwear and bottles around the bed. The shocking mundanity of this arrangement has proved to be startling enough to lead others to begin to interpret the work as art. In the second case, Hirst came up with the conceptual design for the artwork. Although he physically participated in the creation of this piece, he has left the eventual creation of many other works to employed artisans. In this case the celebrity of Hirst is founded entirely on his ability to produce shocking concepts, the actual production is, as with most objects a matter of assembly. These approaches are exemplary of a particular kind of contemporary art known as conceptual art.

Judgments of value

Image:Aboriginal holllow log tomb.jpg
Aboriginal hollow log tombs. National Gallery, Canberra, Australia
Somewhat in relation to the above, the word art is also used to apply judgments of value, as in such expressions like "that meal was a work of art" (the cook is an artist), or "the art of deception," (the highly attained level of skill of the deceiver is praised). It is this use of the word as a measure of high quality and high value that gives the term its flavor of subjectivity.

Making judgments of value requires a basis for criticism. At the simplest level, a way to determine whether the impact of the object on the senses meets the criteria to be considered art, is whether it is perceived to be attractive or repellent. Though perception is always colored by experience, and can be necessarily subjective, it is commonly taken that that which is not aesthetically satisfying in some fashion cannot be art. However, "good" art is not always or even regularly aesthetically appealing to a majority of viewers. In other words, an artist's prime motivation need not be the pursuit of the aesthetic. Also, art often depicts terrible images made for social, moral, or thought-provoking reasons. For example, Francisco Goya's painting depicting the Spanish shootings of 3rd of May 1808, is a graphic depiction of a firing squad executing several pleading civilians. Yet at the same time, the horrific imagery demonstrates Goya's keen artistic ability in composition and execution and his fitting social and political outrage. Thus, the debate continues as to what mode of aesthetic satisfaction, if any, is required to define 'art'.

The assumption of new values or the rebellion against accepted notions of what is aesthetically superior need not occur concurrently with a complete abandonment of the pursuit of that which is aesthetically appealing. Indeed, the reverse is often true, that in the revision of what is popularly conceived of as being aesthetically appealing, allows for a re-invigoration of aesthetic sensibility, and a new appreciation for the standards of art itself. Countless schools have proposed their own ways to define quality, yet they all seem to agree in at least one point: once their aesthetic choices are 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, by the rarity of the skill of the artist, or in its accurate reflection in what is termed the zeitgeist.

Communicating emotion

Art appeals to human emotions. It can arouse aesthetic or moral feelings, and can be understood as a way of communicating these feelings. Artists express something so that their audience is aroused to some extent, but they do not have to do so consciously. Art explores what is commonly termed as the human condition that is essentially what it is to be human. Effective art often brings about some new insight concerning the human condition either singly or en-mass, which is not necessarily always positive, or necessarily widens the boundaries of collective human ability. The degree of skill that the artist has, will affect their ability to trigger an emotional response and thereby provide new insights, the ability to manipulate them at will shows exemplary skill and determination.

The emotional intention of the art isn't necessarily what the viewer might feel. For example, "Hands Resist Him" painted by Bill Stoneham in 1973 was painted as a childhood memory but has been called haunted by some viewers. One owner put the painting up for auction on eBay because it so frightened her children. It is known as the eBay Haunted Painting. Although the story behind the painting is less sensational then Internet lore indicates, the emotional impact the painting and the story have had on people around the world is undeniable. Stoneham has received an outporing of emotional correspondence since the eBay auction, that ranges from healthy self-examination to demented rantings.

Creative impulse

From one perspective, art is a generic term for any product of the creative impulse, out of which sprang all other human pursuits, such as science via alchemy. The term 'art' offers no true definition besides those based within the cultural, historical, and geographical context in which it is applied. Though to artists themselves, the impulse to create can be strong. One might compare Kandinsky's inner necessity to this popular view. It is because of the desire to create in the face of financial hardship, lack of recognition, or political opposition, that artists are sometimes thought of as misguided, or eccentric. However the romantic myth of the starving artist in 'his' garret is a very rare occurrence.

Symbols

Much of the development of individual artist deals with finding principles for how to express certain ideas through various kinds of symbolism. For example, Vasily Kandinsky 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.

Cultural Traditions of Art

Several genres of art are grouped by cultural relevance, examples can be found in terms such as:

See also

Bibliography

  • Arthur Danto, The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art. 2003
  • John Whitehead. Grasping for the Wind. 2001
  • Noel Carroll, Theories of Art Today. 2000
  • Evelyn Hatcher, ed. Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art. 1999
  • David Novitz, ’’Disputes about Art’’ Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54:2, Spring 1996
  • Nina, Felshin, ed. But is it Art? 1995
  • David Novitz, The Boundaries of Art. 1992
  • Stephen Davies, Definitions of Art. 1991

Further reading

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