An Opinion: What is Art?

I have a friend who has difficulty initiating conversations amongst new acquaintances. For the longest time he carried around this book that was filled with questions meant to be thought provoking enough to start in depth conversations. “I have a really good question I found the other day that I thought you might have a good insight on.” He said to me scampering off to his room the retrieve the infamous book. When he returned he flipped through the pages frantically attempting to seek whatever this “really good” question was. He then paused a moment and cleared his throat and proceeded to ask me “Would you rather live in a world consisting of art without science, or science without art?”
I’ve never heard of a world that had been able to separate the two, much less have a question that brought up a possibility of trying. It has always been my understanding (or rather what my high school had always taught me) that the word “art” was originally used to describe the specialization of trades until the Romantic period when painting, drawing, and the sciences began to develop. But this was an interesting question. What is art?

As I was reading the introduction to one of my text books in college, I had to admit to myself I don’t know much about the fundamentals, technical aspect, or even the full effect art has. I researched artists and attempted to google quotes by artists about their art and continually ran into a repeating theme. It seemed like a simple theme…too simple. So I kept digging. Looking through online books and at the technical aspect of art. The theme couldn’t be ignored. Art is a form of communication. They tell stories.

“I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” -Mark Rothko

Humans have used art as a form of expression for centuries. Whether it be through the passing of history in Egyptian hieroglyphics, the journal writings of Ann Frank to tell of the horrors and fear of the holocaust, or the painting Without Hope by Frida Kahlo depicting her struggle with continual health deterioration. All serve the purpose of communication a point, an emotion, a history worth remembering for whatever future effect.

“I’ve never believed in God, but I believe in Picasso.”

-Diego Rivera

One of the greatest stories art tells of are those of values and beliefs. The Last Supper is Da Vinci’s interpretation of the final meal of Jesus Christ and a great insight into the influence of, if not his life, the era he lived in. Other art work such as Native American totem poles reflect the various spirits of nature, family genealogies, legends and other symbolic reminders to communicate to it’s people the history of their tribe. The Egyptian hieroglyphs served as records of rituals, legends of the gods, and even the records of the lives of the pharos who were worshiped as gods on earth. David Sedaris, author and critic, wrote a book called When Engulfed in Flames giving a look into his family, his sexual preference, his ideas and values, and his character as a person. His reason? To communicate his life using his art.

The only issue we run into is what is a piece of art trying to communicate? Some may disagree with this, but I do not think that art is as open to interpretation as we may think. What I find fascinating is people are constantly trying to interpret messages from the things around them. Dreams, films, books, music, articles all seem to have underlying messages or portray values of their creators. Viewers of art may not understand the full message of a piece of work, and many don’t truly understand it until they are told the actual meaning. This is why people feel art is also open to interpretation. Not because it has multiple meanings, but because the original message isn’t as clear to us as it is to the artist. So, we take away what we can from the piece depending on our mood (the ‘glass half empty’ or ‘glass half full’ mentality), preference, and/or life experience. Thus art is also a great subject of controversy.

Art has always been and always will be a form of communication, whether it be of one man’s emotions during a point of struggle his life, a record of the lives of those in a world away from our own, or an insight into the latest political controversy. It’s all a specialization in telling stories, passing on values, and recording history, people, places. What is art? It’s communication. A more refined visual language…and one all it’s own.


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