Intro In late Antiquity the arts consisted of the seven artes liberal es, the liberal arts: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy, and Music. Philosophy was the mother of them all. On a lower level stood the technical arts like architecture, agriculture, painting, sculpture and other crafts. 'Art' as we of it today was a mere craft. Art in the Middle Ages was 'the ape of nature'. And what is art today? Can we give a definition? Sir Roger Penrose, one of the foremost scientists of our time, when faced with a similar problem with regard to the definition of quite something else, viz.
, consciousness, states in his The Emperor's New Mind: 'I do not think that it is wise, at this stage of understanding, to attempt to propose a precise definition of consciousness, but we can rely, to good measure, on our subjective impressions and intuitive common sense as to what the term means... .' The same seems to hold for art: You know what it is, I know it, but a definition is quite something else. You can't say Although one probably cannot give a real definition of Art, here are some thoughts (and a whole lot of quotations) on the subject. Let's start with a quote from 'What is Art? What is an Artist?' by Chris Witcombe, Department of Art History, Sweet Briar College, Virginia.
'Arthur Danto, professor of philosophy at Columbia University... , believes that today 'you can't say something's art or not art anymore. That's all finished.' In his book, After the End of Art, Danto argues that after Andy Warhol exhibited simulacra of shipping cartons for Brillo boxes in 1964, anything could be art. Warhol made it no longer possible to distinguish something that is art from something that is not.' Anything could be a work of art. That gives us a lot of freedom in looking at, enjoying, or creating art. That's not what the other philosopher of art, Richard Wollheim states in his Painting as an Art: 'So, there are house-painters: there are Sunday painters: there are world-politicians who paint for distraction, and distraught business-men who paint to relax.
There are... psychotic patients who enter art therapy, and madmen who set down their visions: there are little children of three, four, five, six, in art class, who produce work of explosive beauty: and then there are the innumerable painters... who once, probably, were artists, but who now paint exclusively for money and the pleasure of others. None of them are artists, though they all fall short of being so to varying degrees, but they are all painters. And then there are painters who are artists. Where does the difference lie, and why? What does the one lot do which the other lot doesn't? When is painting an art, and why?'  The criterion of art What makes a painting a work of art? According to the Institutional Theory of Art, 'Painters make paintings, but it takes a representative of the art-world to make a work of art.'  So, What is art? is not a question to be answered by the lay-man.
We need Priests to tell us what the Truth is, i. e. , to decide wether a painting is a work of art or not. Besides the 'externa list' Institutional Theory of Art answer Wollheim gives two interna list answers: 'The criterion of art lies in some directly perceptible property that the painting has.' and The act of painting has to be an intentional one, i. e. , the painter has to have the intention of making art.
The act of painting has to be undertaken in a special way in order to be art.  The origins of art In a book with a totally different subject, The Prehistory of the Mind, Steve Mithen defines art as artefacts or images with symbolic meanings as a means of communication. Art, in Mithen's theory, is a product of the cognitive fluidity in the 'Modern' (i. e. , Homo sapiens sapiens) Human Mind. The three cognitive processes critical to making art were all present but still separated in the earlier Early Human Mind (e.
g. , Neanderthal). These cognitive processes are 1. Interpreting 'natural symbols's uch as hoof prints ('natural history intelligence'); 2.
Intentional communication ('social intelligence'); and 3. The ability to produce artefacts from mental templates, e. g. a stone hand axe ('technical intelligence').
 So here art is defined as symbolic images as a means of communication. In fact, according to John Fowles, author of The French Lieutenant's Woman, art is 'the best, because richest, most complex and most easily comprehensible, medium of communication between human beings.'  Steve Mithen is talking about the origins of art. And so does, in a different way, Albert Einstein in his famous quote 'The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.'  Now we have six answers to our question: Anything can be a work of art. True, in the here and now. It takes a representative of the art-world to make a work of art.
Sounds a little bit like the easy way out. Moreover, if 6 is true, then 2 is untrue: If the mysterious is the source of all true art, the opinions and expertise of a select group do not really seem to matter very much. Theirs is the know-how, the knowledge; Einstein saw more in imagination: 'I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.' The criterion of art lies in some directly perceptible property that the work of art has.
Then the observer has to learn how to recognize this property. The act of painting has to be undertaken intentionally and in a special way in order to be art. Undertaken intentionally by an artist. Art is what is made by an artist. This brings us to another question: What is an artist? Art is artefacts or images with symbolic meanings as a means of communication. However, not all such images are art - some of them are just signs.
The mysterious is the source of all true art. Maybe because of this we cannot give a clear definition of art. Perhaps one cannot put it into words. Perhaps it's like a mystical experience.
Or like Tao. Art is what is made by an artist Anything might be art. Art is what is made by an artist. Then, what is an artist? This is what John Fowles has to say about the artist: 'To be an artist is not to be a member of a secret society; it is not an activity inscrutably forbidden to the majority of mankind. Even the clumsiest, ugliest and most ignorant lovers make love; and what is important is the oneness of man in making artefacts, not the abyss said to exist between a Leonardo and the average of mankind. We are not all to be Leonardo; but of the same kind as Leonardo, for genius is only one end of the scale.
I climbed Parnassus once, and between the mundane village of Arachova at the foot and the lonely summit, quite as lovely as the poets have always had it to be, there is nothing but a slope; no abyss, no gulf, no place where wings are necessary.'  (So maybe Wollheim's book is about Painting as an Act of Artistic Genius. ) The innocent eye: A child's 'definition' of art According to Wollheim, children do not make art. They make pictures, drawings, paintings, collages. They are perhaps too young to be concerned with the creation of art. Yet they seem to have their own, clear 'definition' of a work of art. Some years ago, when Leah was 9 years old, I was reading Wollheim's Painting as an Art.
Leah looked at the picture on the cover and asked, 'What is that?' 'It's a work of art,' I said. She started to laugh and said, 'That's not a work of art, it's a painting!' 'A painting is a work of art,' I said. She did not agree. I had noticed this before with young children. They know perfectly well what a work of art is: In the realm of artefacts and images there are paintings, drawings, cartoons, and statues, statuettes and figurines in stone, porcelain and bronze, and works of art.
'Works of art' are also made with paint or bronze or whatever, but a 'work of art' is something (mostly it's 3-D and quite often it possesses a kind of beauty) which cannot be explained in utilitarian terms and which bears no relation to the visible world. It's something that's just there, made to be placed in public space or in a museum garden. It doesn't represent a little mermaid or a piglet or the queen on her horse. It simply is a 'work of art'. The innocent eye II: Children's art The way children see and make art has, at last, been recognized by some representatives of the art-world.
For instance, the Lehnbachhaus in Munich and the Kunst museum Bern organized the exhibition Mit dem Augen des Kinds (With the Eye of the Child) in 1995. And the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam in 1998 showed the art work of school children of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy.  Art with a capital This is what Sir Ernst Gombrich writes in the very first sentences of his immensely popular The Story of Art, the million-selling handbook which went through sixteen editions since its first appearance in 1950: 'There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists. Once these were men who took coloured earth and roughed out the forms of a bison on the wall of a cave; today some buy their paints, and design posters for the hoardings; they did and do many other things. There is no harm in calling all these activities art as long as we keep in mind that such a word may mean very different things in different times and places, and as long as we realize that Art with a capital A has no existence.
For Art with a capital A has come to be something of a bogey and a fetish.' The origins of art II Recall that the first of Mithen's three cognitive processes critical to making art was natural history intelligence, the ability of interpreting natural symbols such as hoof prints. There are many more natural symbols. Ian Stewart, the mathematician calls them the patterns of nature: The spots of leopards and hyenas, the stripes of tigers and zebras, the phases of the moon, the helix of a snail's shell, the arrangement of petals in flowers, the markings on the wings of a butterfly.  Of course, natural history intelligence comprises man and woman's conscious or unconscious awareness of nature's patterns. A striking example of the use of these patterns of nature in 'primitive' art is described by Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough: 'The Huichol Indians admire the beautiful markings on the backs of serpents. Hence when a Huichol woman is about to weave or embroider, her husband catches a large serpent and holds it in a cleft stick, while the woman strokes the reptile with one hand down the whole length of its back; then she passes the same hand over her forehead and eyes, that she may be able to work as beautiful patterns in the web as the markings on the back of the serpent.' PEDS Recent developments in archaeology and anthropology have brought into question our conception of prehistoric images as art.
In Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol, Iain Davidson, in his article 'The Power of Pictures', writes the following: 'I note here that 'art' is that making or marking of surfaces people talk about when they refer to paintings, engravings (including sculptures), drawings and stencils of the Pleistocene. It is sometimes convenient to refer to this making or marking of surfaces as PEDS. Whether this 'art' meets anyone's criteria for art is entirely up to them. I do not believe it is useful or necessary to attempt to define art (without the inverted commas), because as every controversy about art, from Braque to Warhol to spray-can graffiti, indicates whether something is art depends on whether someone thinks it is.'  Art in context In the same volume, Silvia Tom''a states:' On a conceptual level I question the appropriateness of the term 'art' relative to prehistoric representations, suggesting that the category of art is not only inappropriate from an epistemological standpoint but also a hindrance to archaeological research, due to the conceptual attachments that it has in fields such as art history or aesthetics.' and 'Most scholars who deal with rock paintings or objects recovered from prehistoric contexts that cannot be explained in utilitarian terms and are thus categorized as decorative, ritual or symbolic, are aware of the trap posed by the term 'art'... .'  In the Museum Only when objects recovered from prehistoric contexts, or ethnographic contexts, are placed in the art museum and presented as art do they become works of art. But then they are placed outside their context, or maybe even outside any context.
Tom''a gives the following example, taken from the catalogue of the 1995 London Royal Academy African art exhibit: 'Until now, African pottery, wooden carvings and textiles had been viewed essentially as handicraft because... they had not been created as art, to be appreciated for their own sake. Even after 'primitive' African art inspired Picasso, Brancusi, Braque, Modigliani and Henri Moore earlier this century, it was its magical and mystical quality that counted most. But at the Royal Academy, objects made by African hands are separated from their cultural context and can be judged simply as art.'  Baskets, pottery and maybe even tools can be experienced as works of art in the same way as Brillo boxes, Campbell soup cans (Warhol) and bicycle handlebars tied to a saddle (Picasso) or a picture postcard of the Mona Lisa with a moustache drawn on it and the lettering (Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics) L. H.
O. O. Q. (Duchamp). E = mc^2 How far can we go? Thomas Vargish and Delo E. Mook, in their recent Inside Modernism: Relativity Theory, Cubism, Narrative, tell us: '...
we treat the Special and General Theories of Relativity as important modernist works of art, the most important for our purpose because they contain and express with the highest intensity the values that for us define Modernism.'  Of course, Vargish and Mook do not define the Relativity Theory as a work of art, they treat it as such in order to explain their argument. A work of science is not a work of art, although there are some parallels between them. The aesthetic principle seems to be important to both. The great physicist, Paul A. M.
Dirac, claims that 'keen sense of beauty' enabled him to discover the wave function for the electron in 1928. And G. N. Watson, one of the most distinguished mathematicians of the early twentieth century said that some of Ramanujan's mathematical formulas gave him the same thrill as Michelangelo's 'Day,' 'Night,' 'Evening' and 'Dawn' in the Medici chapel in the San Lorenzo in Florence.  Moreover, some strikingly parallel developments in twentieth-century art and science have been pointed out by the quantum physicist and philosopher David Bohm: 'It seems very interesting that the development away from representation and symbolism and toward what may be called 'pure structure' that took place in mathematics and in science, was paralleled by a related development in art. Beginning with Monet and C'e zanne and going on to the Cubists and to Mondrian, there is a clearly detectable growth of the realisation that art need not represent or symbolism anything else at all, but rather that it may involve the creation of something new - 'a harmony parallel to that of nature' - as C'e zanne put it.'  However, this seems to be rather an example of the Zeitgeist (that unfashionable term) at work in different disciplines.
Here, art and science both go through parallel developments. It seems a good illustration of what Erwin Panofsky calls the essential tendencies of the human mind. Panofsky's argument is that, in order to fully understand the intrinsic meaning or content of a work of art one has to gain insight into the manner in which such tendencies are expressed in a given period. The essential tendency here being the development away from representation.  Painting is a science " Painting is a science and should be per sued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, then, may not landscape painting be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?' Thus John Constable concluded his fourth Royal Academy lecture in 1836.
A paragraph earlier he had said: 'It appears to me that pictures have been over-valued; held up by blind admiration as ideal things, and almost as standards by which nature is to be judged rather than the reverse; and this false estimate has been sanctioned by the extravagant epithets that have been applied to painters, as 'the divine', 'the inspired', and so forth. Yet, in reality, what are the most sublime productions of the pencil but selections of some of the forms of nature, and copies of a few of her evanescent effects; and this is the result, not of inspiration, but of long and patient study... .'  In Constable's view, then, art is a copy of nature; nature the teacher of art: natura art is magi stra. Israel Scheffler in his Symbolic Worlds states, however, that science purports to describe reality while 'Art, on the other hand, and in contradistinction to the views of Constable and Gombrich, is not cognitive, but rather emotive in its import. Its function is to stimulate, express, or vent emotions rather than to describe reality'.  Art is an intrinsic part of human behavior long quote from Nancy Aiken's The Biological Origins of Art where Aiken refers to Dissanayake's Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes from and Why: 'Art is not icing on the cake of culture.
Art is an intrinsic part of human behavior; we can call human kind not only Homo sapiens but, as Ellen Dissanayake has it, Homo aesthetic us. Probably quite by accident and without understanding what they had done, our remote ancestors co-opted some adaptive behaviors to add to their elaboration of ordinary things. These behaviors, such as fear at the sight of predator eyes and teeth, turned a previously ordinary thing, such as a covering for the head, into a frightful mask. Art can be made by any of us. It need not result in museum-quality work; it can be only an elaboration of an ordinary object: a hair style rather than plain hair, fashion rather than a simple covering to keep warm, decorating rather than a room with furniture.
We can all dance, sing, and doodle; some just do these better than others. Art is appreciated by all of us. We need no special knowledge or sensory apparatus or experience to respond to a rhythm, a tune, a series of bright colors, a monumental building, or a parade. We can all be thrilled and soothed by art.
Art is a species-specific behavior which can be used for social manipulation. All of us are subject to art's whim. Art can direct thinking, beliefs, and behavior. Art is a means to educate, subjugate, subvert, and convert. Art has this power because it can tap into and use our reflexive responses to natural, biologically relevant stimuli. We are unable to control these responses.
We do not even realize what is happening.' Any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel " My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.' - John Lennon  Notes and references 1. Penrose (1990), 555; italics in the original. [Back] 2. Chris Witcombe, 'What is Art? What is an Artist?' web Danto (1997), 13.
[Back] 3. Wollheim (1987), 13. [Back] 4. Wollheim (1987), 13-14. [Back] 5. Wollheim (1987), 16-17.
[Back] 6. Mithen (1996), 151-163; [Back] 7. Fowles (1968), 183, #2. [Back] 8. The English quote is from Einstein (1940); see for the German original: Einstein (1934).
[Back] 9. Fowles (1968), 156, #60. [Back] 10. See: Fineberg (1997); Fineberg (1998).
Stedelijk Museum Bulletin 1998, no. 2, 23-25. [Back] 11. Gombrich (1995), 15. [Back] 12. Stewart (1995), 1, 136.
See also on the 'art forms of nature': Haeckel (1998). [Back] 13. Frazer (1963), 37. [Back] 14.
Iain Davidson, 'The Power of Pictures,' in: Conkey et al. (1997), 125. [Back] 15. Silvia Tom''a, 'Places of Art: Art and Archaeology in Context,' in: Conkey et al.
(1997), 266, 268. [Back] 16. Silvia Tom''a, 'Places of Art: Art and Archaeology in Context,' in: Conkey et al. (1997), 270. [Back] 17. Vargish/Mook (1999), 7.
[Back] 18. Penrose (1990), 545; cf. Bohm (1968), 167 or Bohm (1998), 31. Emmer (1993), xiii-xiv. [Back] 19.
Bohm (1968), 1970, reprinted in Bohm (1998), 35. [Back] 20. Panofsky (1983), 66; originally published in Panofsky (1939). [Back] 21. Leslie (1951), 323. [Back] 22.
Scheffler (1997), 112. [Back] 23. Aiken (1998), 174. [Back] 24. Dissanayake (1995). [Back] 25.
Lennon (1995), quotation on back cover. [Back] Bibliography & Books for Further Reading Aiken (1998): Nancy Aiken, The Biological Origins of Art, Westport & London: Praeger, 1998. [Back] Bohm (1968): David Bohm, 'On the Relationships of Science and Art', in: Anthony Hill (ed. ), Data: Directions in Art, Theory and Aesthetics, London: Faber & Faber, 1968. [Back to note 18] | [Back to note 19] Bohm (1998): David Bohm; Lee Nichol (ed. ), On Creativity, London & New York: Routledge, 1998.
[Back to note 18] | [Back to note 19] Conkey et al. (1997): Margaret W. Conkey, Olga S offer, Deborah Strat man and Nina G. Jablonski (eds. ), Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol, San Francisco: The California Academy of Sciences / University of California Press, 1997. [Back] Danto (1997): Arthur C.
Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997. [Back] Dissanayake (1995): Ellen Dissanayake, Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes from and Why, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995. [Back] Einstein (1934): Albert Einstein, Mein Welt bild, Amsterdam: Quer ido, 1934. [Back] Einstein (1940): Albert Einstein, The World as I See It, London: Watts, 1940. [Back] Emmer (1993): Michele Emmer (ed.
), The Visual Mind: Art and Mathematics, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1993. [Back] Fineberg (1997): Jonathan Fineberg, The Innocent Eye: Children's Art and the Modern Artist, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997. [Back] Fineberg (1998): Jonathan Fineberg (ed. ), Discovering Child Art: Essays on Childhood, Primitivism and Modernism, Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 1998. [Back] Fowles (1968): John Fowles, The Arist os, London: Pan Books, 1968 (1965). [Back to note 7] | [Back to note 9] Frazer (1963): Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, I volume, abridged edition, New York: Macmillan, 1963 (1922), [Back] Gombrich (1995): E.
H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, 16 th Edition, London: Phaidon, 1995 (1950). [Back] Haeckel (1998): Ernst Haeckel, Kunst formen der Natur: Die Farbtafeln im Facsimile mit Text, allgemeine r Erlaeuterung und Ue bersicht, M"u nchen etc. : Pre stel, 1998 (Leipzig / Wien: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1899-1904. ).
[Back] Lennon (1995): John Lennon: Drawings, Performances, Films, ed. Wulf Herzogenrath and Dorothea Hansen, Ostfildern: Can tz, 1995. [Back] Leslie (1951): C. R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, London: Phaidon, 1951. [Back] Mithen (1996): Steven Mithen, The Prehistory of The Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science, London: Thames & Hudson, 1996.
[Back] Panofsky (1939): Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1939. [Back] Panofsky (1983): Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983 (New York: Doubleday, 1955). [Back] Penrose (1990): Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics, London: Vintage, 1990 [Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989]. [Back to note 1] | [Back to note 18] Scheffler (1997): Israel Scheffler, Symbolic Worlds: Art, Science, Language, Ritual, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. [Back] Stewart (1995): Ian Stewart, Nature's Numbers: Discovering Order and Pattern in the Universe, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995. [Back] Vargish/Mook (1999): Thomas Vargish and Delo E.
Mook, Inside Modernism: Relativity Theory, Cubism, Narrative, New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1999. [Back] Wollheim (1987): Richard Wollheim, Painting as an Art, London: Thames & Hudson, 1987. [Back to note 3] | [Back to note 4] | [Back to note 5] Other Websites about 'What is Art?' SITO 'Operative Term Is Stimulate' ask the visitors to their site to define art: 'We " ll accept any definition you " re willing to give'. What Art Is Abstract and chapter summaries of What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kami (Chicago etc. : Open Court, 2000).
What is Art? From the website 'Art History: A Preliminary Handbook', by Robert J. Belton, Department of Fine Arts, Okanagan University College, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. What is Art? What is an Artist? by Chris Witcombe, Department of Art History, Sweet Briar College, Virginia.