Thursday, April 28, 2016

What is Art? - My Subjectively Objective Definition

Defining art is difficult, since everyone defines it differently.

In my opening post for this blog I tried to define "art" with search suggestions by Google and I also mentioned my wary attitude towards academic definitions. Since defining "art" is the ultimate goal of this blog, however, I sooner or later have to deal with different views on this point.

Yet before I discuss what others have to say about this I believe it's a good idea to record how personally I define it right now, slightly more than half a year after starting this blog. By doing so I can analyze how my views changed later, after I've dealt with the views of others. Will other definitions change my own or will they make me stick to my definition even more?

Defining art is difficult, since everyone defines it differently. We used to discuss it in school, and ... I changed my views several times in my life. With every book I read ... with every story I wrote ... with every movie I watched and every game I played ... with every academic text I read ... My own definition changed with every new experience.

Back in school there was mention of the idea that art is what somebody called art. So if there's a painting and people see it and call it art, then it's art. ... It's not a bad idea, since it stresses the importance of a recipient: Without one art - at least for me - loses half of its purpose.

On the other hand, what one person calls art another person would call crap. What we consider art often depends on individual taste. Often people exclaim "That's true art!" to simply express how much they enjoy a particular artwork.

There are also art critics who understand much more about art than most people and often like rather strange stuff ... I experienced it myself when I studied literature at university and my literary taste drastically changed, so sometimes I find myself fangirling over writing that may seem weird or even dull to others. At the same time, however, I know very little about fine arts, so I have issues understanding abstract art. Thanks to my experiences with literature I'm still able to respect it as art, openly admitting that the "fault" is all mine here, but I simply can't enjoy it as I enjoy realistic or impressionistic painting, for example.

This is the reason why I decided to ban subjectivity from my own definition: If I struggle to perceive something as art it doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to be called art. I also believe that a good definition of art should include less traditional forms of art. For example, the ability to be entertaining and make people laugh is a very valuable skill, but there's no visible artwork as with fine arts and literature; it's immaterial. For me, everything can be art: cooking, designing your Facebook profile, building websites, constructing cars, building houses, car driving, fencing ... Almost everything can be art if it's done creatively.

To put it all in one sentence: For me, art is any kind of creative production or service.

However, just like most people I tend to talk about good and bad art. I have only one criterion to measure how good or bad an artwork is: Good art makes maximum use of the tools specific to its genre.

So, for example, a novel that wants to be a movie may be interesting or even thrilling, but as a work of prose it's bad. The popular writing advice "Show, don't tell" is often misunderstood in a way that writers often focus on superficial descriptions of irrelevant things instead of, for example, giving these things a proper meaning by turning them into metaphors, a tool very specific to literature. Sure metaphors can be used in other genres as well, but a metaphor made with pictures, for instance, is significantly different from a metaphor created with words.

The same can be applied to video games with too many cinematics: It may be interesting to watch, but if there's only little gameplay it's not a proper game, is it? After all, cinematics aren't what games are about. Such games fail their purpose just like a movie usually fails to be a movie if it makes too much use of a voice-over narrator. You can and you should learn from other art genres, of course, "translating" their techniques into your own art genre, but it's important to make it actually a "translation", something adjusted to the specifics of the target genre instead of just copying other art genres.

In my opinion, good art is innovative, and a true artist is defined by knowing his tools properly. Art has much to do with experiment and study to improve one's tools and exploring new techniques and concepts. Maximum use of tools specific to a genre is only possible if the artist always keeps learning and improving his knowledge and skill.

So much for my definition. How do you define art? Please write me in the comments.

Feael Silmarien

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