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What is Art—and Why Even Ask?

Long ago, Willem de Kooning and John Cage were sitting in one of the downtown cafeterias that New York artists used to frequent. Throwing a couple of packets of sugar on the table, Cage said, “This could be art.” De Kooning’s reply: “No it couldn’t.”

What is Art?

A measuring tape for history.

On Defining Art: A Quasi-Definition of Works of Art

“We are not really destroying the object, but just expanding the definition, that’s all,” said Robert Barry. This is, in a nutshell, the whole story of the marvelous adventure that art has turned into ever since the twentieth century—an adventure that is still going on today.

What is Art?

What is art? This question has been up for grabs for about a century. It is a question every artist must ask when embarking on a career. The same question must be faced by every curator, critic, collector, art dealer, and non-profit administrator—indeed, every participant and observer, casual or otherwise, involved with the present cultural scene.

What is Art?

It’s a language for establishing a dialogue with the world, especially for picture thinkers and busy-handed tinkerers. Early in life you pick up crayons and paints and different kinds of art tools and begin exploring the way you see­­ images that resonate with your imagination.

What is Art?

A prominent art critic walks through a museum exhibition of photographs of homeless people. She notes that the exhibition also features paraphernalia of the homeless—a sleeping bag, cardboard flats, plastic containers.

What is Art?

There was always plenty of talking about Art. What was this reality “out there” all about? I wanted to figure the world out on my own.

My Personal Definition of Art

The only point of asking an artist for a definition of “Art” is to learn about that artist. I am not a theoretician so my definition comes from a deep inside place that is visual and is as basic as a noun and a verb.

What is Art?

I have two jobs right now: one is as an assistant and archivist for a highly regarded Minimalist painter, the other is as a copywriter for an online art auction site. Each provides opportunities to examine how arguments for excluding or including art are constructed, from the 1960s through to the present.

lines circling a definition of art (on my birthday, for W.H.A.)

Art is about living as variously as possible. If art is, categorically, nothing more specific than whatever an artist does, the question is then “what is an artist?”

What is Art?

Art is what you do not know—and if you can define art, then perhaps it isn’t? It is the thing that shows you the other side of the question, and through its perspective answers what had been before unanswerable.

What is Art?

The act of art is an act of value bestowal—one allows a value to emerge (who knows its sources, its provenance?) for delectation or abhorrence or indifference—the hazard of that.

What is Architecture? (Art?)

While artists work from the real to the abstract, architects must work from the abstract to the real. While art may legitimize itself as an object or an event, architecture dissolves into a blur of buildings.

Filling the Emptiness

I once began a poem by asking “Is art a way / of denying emptiness?” I believe in some sense it is. Not in the sense of denying that emptiness exists but in denying it its power to submerge us in a vast sea of namelessness.

Is it Possible to Define Art?

To even attempt a definition of art today seems almost insurmountable. But what might be more reasonable is to seek some understanding of the issues that are prevalent in our current artistic climate.

What is Art?

As Justice Potter Stewart once said in reference to hard-core pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Like pornography, art is difficult to define and can mean different things to different people.

Art Is

An artist is a person who makes art, and art is what she makes. There is an unlimited number of possible responses to the question what is art? just as there is no limit to instances of what can be called art.

What is Art?

What is art? Useless, an empty signifier, but also the currency for global capital and high stakes gambling, of great value and interest to millions of people who wait patiently in extremely long lines, and completely irrelevant to countless others; not intimate, but spectacular, atomized, and digitized, also intimate, tactile, hand-held, close up.

What is Art?

When I think of art the Kwakiutl come to mind. The Kwakiutl had no word for art but art was everywhere, in all aspects of their lives. Every utilitarian object was a work of art, whether it was a grizzly bear or otter bowl, a whale spoon, or a heron fishhook.

Vedova / Tintoretto

Traditionally, questions related to the origin and nature of art—specifically in terms of defining art—were argued within the realm of aesthetics. The science of aesthetics began as a branch of philosophy in the mid-18th century and is attributed to the work of the philosopher and historian, Alexander Baumgarten.

What is Art?

The invention of the scientific method separated material traits from the magical, symbolic, and spiritual.

What is Art? Art is What?

It is a good time now to consider the question “What is art?” as investment and career concerns have usurped the more profound communication traditionally found in works of Art.

What is Art?

The notion of what constitutes a work of art is as old as the concept of art itself. We were under the impression that we had it all figured out until the early years of the 20th century, when, adopting a pseudonym, a 29-year-old French artist submitted a commercially manufactured object to an art exhibition in New York and forced us to ask the question all over again.

Points of Change; A Painter’s Journey

On the first floor of the Metropolitan Museum, a wondrous room from Pompeii had been reconstructed. It was once possible to walk into this room. Then, it was roped off, but it could still clearly be seen.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2013

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