What is Art? What is an Artist’s ‘Job’? What does a true Artist do?
Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Plato first developed the idea of Art as copying or imitating something that is beautiful or meaningful. In the 19th Century Photography took over that function and in the 20th abstract artists overruled the idea that art is just about representation. Although Art meant skill early on in history, conceptual artists managed to elevate ideas over execution. SO what is Art? Does it have to be beautiful? Expressive? Intuitive? Original? Uplifting? Intellectual?
Those Questions are wildly discussed among our society. Artists and non artists have different opinions… Where everyone agrees though is the fact that it’s hard to define what the precise definition of “ART” specifically is, maybe everyone even has their own, personal one.
That’s why I wanted to open up that topic and share my personal thoughts about Art and Artistry with you. Also, to inspire you to think more about it. I'll also attach some other interesting readings, opinions and interviews about this topic from both -known and not so known philosophers.
For me, Art is sharing how someone experiences the world in a way that makes you feel something. Any way. Sad, Happy, Excited, Disgusted. - It doesn’t matter how, it just matters that it MAKES you feel somehow. It provokes a thought. Maybe makes you more interested in the experience the Artist had while creating, maybe you want to know more, maybe not; -maybe you just enjoy feeling it without knowing much more about it.
Is Art always beautiful? Beauty is frequently associated with art. There is sometimes an expectation of encountering a ‘beautiful’ object when going to see a work of art, be it painting, sculpture, book or performance. Of course, that expectation quickly changes as one widens the range of installations encountered. So My answer to weather Art is always beautiful is definitely: No. Some pieces of art I don’t find necessarily beautiful, but they makes me feel a certain way. It’s a 100% about the feeling and what it does with you. – places it takes you, feelings it creates in you, maybe even physically – gives you shivers or goosebumps. Yes, a mountain scene on canvas can be beautiful, and art sometimes incorporates beauty in it because that is just truthful to life, but It doesn’t need to be “beautiful” or necessarily positive: it can be deliberately hurtful or displeasing, extremely sad, dark or even not understandable at all. it can make you think about or consider things that you would rather not. But if it evokes an emotion in you, then it is art. And THAT’s what’s beautiful about it: you don’t need to always understand it.
I get it- we humans want to analyze and always understand everything we experience, go find the deeper meaning of something that interests us. We tend to have this compulsion of defining, categorizing and organizing rather than leaving things random and unstructured. Seeing regularities and patterns in repetitions and associations, always on the lookout for correlations, eager to determine cause and effect, Find the Story behind it, look behind the curtain, seek the REASON for it so that it makes sense to us. But thankfully, in the last century we have also learned to take pleasure in the reflection of not understood or unstructured perceptions; our artistic ways of seeing and listening have expanded to encompass disharmony and irregularity. This means that culturally, we expanded our gap of what we consider "artful” and learning to appreciate the unknown, by simply feeling into it as a whole rather than trying to analyzing it into pieces.
So many artists I analyzed in depth just simply expressed their current mood -whatever THEY FELT IN THE MOMENT INTUITIVELY INTO SOMETHING ELSE (canvas/ music/sculptures etc.. ) without having a deeper concept planned out, and it would be insulting to them to try and find or maybe even invent a reason or background for that art piece – just to have one; just so it makes sense to us. Maybe it was just their expression of a thought, maybe just a certain, unexplainable feeling. – And they forwarded the experience onto something else. Maybe it had a deeper reason and we feel eager to examine and dive into deeper research about the artist and their life and circumstances. The path/ way of this intentional, but extremely soulful communication is magical, because obviously not everyone can express what they are feeling in one or another way. Most people try to do it with words, but there is content where language isn’t sufficient to explain, we have language barriers and blockades at times. and some things you simply cannot even describe with words, so we need other ways, - through an aesthetic, more sensitive response. Lastly, it’s definitely an intentional communication of an experience since it’s usually a recap of something experienced before or thoughts/ concepts about the present or future and you want to capture and share it with the world.
What does an Artist do? A true Artist follows their intuition. Dives deep into their soul and has the urge to express something. Share a view, a feeling, a desire, a viewpoint, an opinion, an intuition and is able to have a way of doing that through a certain type of communication to reach something or somebody else. That somebody else might not get the EXACT same feeling or view or desire, but as long as we either: SEE and FEEL and mayyybe even understand what the Artist's intention or what he/she was feeling and showing us and that makes us feel a certain type of way OR we feel our-self something completely different or even opposite while experiencing cause may be coming not exactly from the same background as the artist, or living and breathing in a different wave-line and experiencing things just differently guess what, -we are all different human beings?! ;), but if it still MAKES US FEEL- again- for me it’s considered Art. Let’s put it in reverse: If there is an architecture or sculpture that doesn’t make you feel ANYYY particular way, you think it’s absolutely boring and you could care less if you see I or not, you are not a tiny bit interested in it, but it’s considered “Art” because someone put effort or money in it, then it might not be Art for you. It’s as simple as that in my view. Art is about capturing life, the world – in it’s most intuitional and truthful form. No lies, No pretending. Pure Truth. The Art itself may not be truthful, but it for sure makes us realize the truth or truthful aspects of life. And Truth isn’t always beautiful. But truth is the only real thing. The only thing we will ever be able to relate to. And the only thing that will make us feel stuff.
The Artist is an constant explorer. An explorer of the world around him, the world our society lives in, the spiritual world and his own world inside him. Always curious, always living in the purpose of making a contribution to inspire, motivate, make others feel something, open up a thought, open up a hidden feeling, or in the biggest case scenario even possibly change someone’s life with their art. Isn’t that amazing?! All you do is seek the truth, express your inner self, express your understanding of an aspect of private or public life: love, conflict, fear, pain, etc. ,deepest feels or desires and share it with whoever is ready for it in your own, very personal way – whatever that may be (doing a year long movie about it or just “throwing it out” intuitively onto a paper. A work of Art may be direct or complex, subtle or explicit, intelligible or obscure, give you a sense of hope or despair, wonder or cynicism, adoration or spite… And it all comes from the imagination and deep intuition of the artist alone.
A lot of artists go crazy. And I wondered for a long while why that is the case. I found that depression, sadness, irritation, loneliness and abundance is a very common case for artists to occur. Van Gogh cut his ear off. Musicians like Kurt Cobain or Avicii commit suicide. Actors like Heath Ledger or Marilyn Monroe overdosing, speculating due to heavy roles. The List goes on and on: Ozzy Osbourne, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Steven Tyler.... all struggling with drug abuse. Do illicit drugs promote creativity? Or do they offer an escape from a world known only to the rich and famous? …… And even nowadays, lots of actors and musicians have alcohol and drug problems, sleep depression, put themselves into extremes to compete in this crazy competitive business. Actually 60% of the working class who have depression or drug & alcohol issues are artists. My Theory is that Pain and Art are very connected and related to each other. Every Artist in order to create something interestingly dramatic in the first place NEEDS to feel pain, - to be able to relate to the problem a 100%. – to be truthful, and have a truthful expression. That’s what we want to see, for example, in movies, - we want problems / conflicts and resolutions. In order to create that as an actor you must feel that pain first to and live truthfully in the moment. When you are adopting the painful character, trying to live like it, speak like it, think like that, investigate all the background the character has it may be easy to get into the role (for a lot of great actors -after a proper time to prepare),- but what about coming out of the character? Are there classes for that? Or Teachers? I haven't heard of any. Why did Daniel Lewis refuse to leave his character's wheelchair in "My Left Foot" even after filming was finished? (All of the slumping caused him to eventually break two ribs!). Or why did Jim Carrey explain how his role in "The Man on the Moon" led to an existential crisis? - "I didn't know who I was anymore when the movie was over. I didn't know what my politics were. I couldn't remember what I was about. Suddenly I was so unhappy and I realized I was back in my problems," he admitted. Why did Bob Hoskins Doctor recommend him to take a few months off acting because he started seeing halluzinations in real life just like his character he played?! He took off a whole year. Christian Bale dropped over 60 pounds, reducing his body mass to just 120 pounds by only smoking cigarettes and drinking whisky to prepare for his role and needed medical help after the film was finished to gain his normal weight back (needed to gain normal weight back in only 5 weeks for the upcoming Batman film).
Heth Ledger nearly descended into madness for his Oscar-winning role as The Joker in "The Dark Knight." - locked himself in his apartment for a month prior to filming and estimated sleeping two hours per night for a week during filming.Crew members also worried about the actor claiming he refused to speak to others out of character. "If you tried to communicate with him normally instead of The Joker, he would just ignore you," a source told Fox News. It's thought Ledger became so engulfed in the role, that it led to his premature death from an overdose of prescription drugs before the film was released.
Adrien Brody sold everything he owned and moved to Europe to get into character for The Pianist. He also deprived himself of food. He says, "There is an emptiness that comes with really starving that I hadn't experienced... I couldn't have acted that without knowing it." Kate Winslet reportedly dove in to her role in The Reader to the point that she had trouble getting back to normal life. She said of the experience: "It's like I've escaped from a serious car accident and need to understand what has just happened."
We, as consumer-people want to escape through Art, we want to be uplifted through art, want to be inspired, even motivated by it. -Basically to make life easier and more dealable. Watch a movie and feel energized. Or listen to a song during a break up and feel better or even more sad. But do we ever think of what that actor who immersed intensively into a role to give us a truthful performance felt or why he/she chose the role in the first place? What the process was or what they went through in order for them to get there? Or an artist who created that song (that so radically helped you in your bad times) - might have felt when he/she wrote it? Wouldn’t it make sense that that artist might have felt the exact same way, but was able enough to put it into something greater. And serve the collective purpose of society and community by sharing his experience in an art form that is able to move and even help others?
What I personally most enjoy about Art as I read a love poem by Goethe, enjoy a Chopin piano concerto, or get indulged into a Dali - drawing, I am often emotionally inspired by the moment and intellectually stimulated by the thought-process that follows. I feel astonished that some other human being might have had the same feels or thoughts as me. It makes me think and wonder and probably even relate more. I feel like if more people would be receptive to the Power Art has, the world would be a more understanding and relatable. If it can change me in such a positive, more respectful and relatable way, I think it definitely also can others. ________________________________________________________________________________
Here are some other interesting thoughts of readings I came across during my research for the definition of art:
(Neil Hallinan, Maynooth, Co. Kildare) “So I began to reach a definition of art. A work of art is that which asks a question which a non-art object such as a wall does not: What am I? What am I communicating? The responses, both of the creator artist and of the recipient audience, vary, but they invariably involve a judgement, a response to the invitation to answer. The answer, too, goes towards deciphering that deeper question – the ‘Who am I?’ which goes towards defining humanity.”
(Catherine Bosley, Monk Soham, Suffolk) Art drives the development of a civilization, both supporting the establishment and also preventing subversive messages from being silenced – art leads, mirrors and reveals change in politics and morality. Art plays a central part in the creation of culture, and is an outpouring of thought and ideas from it, and so it cannot be fully understood in isolation from its context. Paradoxically, however, art can communicate beyond language and time, appealing to our common humanity and linking disparate communities. Perhaps if wider audiences engaged with a greater variety of the world’s artistic traditions it could engender increased tolerance and mutual respect.
"Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding." – Marc Chagall (1887–1985) Russian-French artist, remark, 1977
"Art is either a plagiarist or a revolutionary" – Paul Gauguin, (1848–1903), Peruvian-born French artist, quoted in Huneker, The Pathos of Distance (1913)
"We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth." – Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Spanish painter living in France, quoted in Dore Ashton's Picasso on Art (1972)
"What is art? Art grows out of grief and joy, but mainly grief. It is born of people’s lives."
– Edvard Munch (1863–1944), Norwegian artist, in Edvard Munch: The Man and His Art, by Ragna Stang (1977)
"To evoke in oneself a feeling one has experienced, and…then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling—this is the activity of art."
– Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), Russian author, What is Art? (1890)
"Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos."
– Saul Bellow (1915–2005), American novelist, in George Plimpton, Writers at Work, third series (1967)
"Art has to move you and design does not, unless it's a good design for a bus."
– David Hockney (1937–) British artist, to The Guardian on October 26, 1988
"Life is short, art is long, often quoted as ‘Ars longa, vita brevis’, after Seneca's rendering in De Brevitate Vitae sect."
– Hippocrates (c.460–357 BC), Greek physician, Aphorisms sect. 1, para. 1 (translated by W. H. S. Jones)
"Art is a revolt, a protest against extinction."
– André Malraux (1901–1976), French novelist, essayist, and art critic, Les Voix du silence (1951)
"Filling a space in a beautiful way. That's what art means to me."
– Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986), American painter, in Art News December 1977
"Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding."
– Marc Chagall (1887–1985) Russian-French artist, remark, 1977
Here are some interesting Videos/ Talks I found about the definition and importance of Art:
Katerina Gregos on why Art is so important | TEDxGhent : https://youtu.be/UPk56BR1Cmk
Jordan Peterson on "Why you need Art in your Life": https://youtu.be/7z3mg6fjmzw
"What makes something Art?"
Leo Gura on "What is the Essence of Art?": https://youtu.be/JkoDlg3zy7E
Why Artists are never happy:
UCLA Professor Richard Walter on The Difference between Bad and Great Art:
WHAT DOES ART MEAN TO YOU? Do you agree or disagree with some things said on this page? Do you have your own personal definition of art?
Comment in the section below, I’m curious to hear your opinions!