The Question of Art

Thomas Kinkade passed away on Friday.

I already wrote about my fascination with his work in “In Search of Light” so I won’t repeat that here. But his death, and the discussion surrounding him and whether or not his art was anything more than ” mass-produced kitsch” as many critics claim has made me think about a question that runs through my life.

What is art?

I walk over to flip through my trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary (preferring the feel of printed pages to the more easily accessible dictionary on-line) and look up this simple three-letter word:

1. a. Human creative skill or its application.  b. work exhibiting this. 2. a.  . . . the various branches of creative activity concerned with the production of imaginative designs, sounds, or ideas, e.g. painting, music, writing, considered collectively. b. any of these branches. 3 creative activity, esp. painting and drawing, resulting n visual representation 4. human skill or workmanship as opposed to the work of nature. . . . 5. . . . a skill, aptitude, or knack . . . 6. . . . those branches of learning (esp. languages, literature, and history) associated with creative skill as opposed to scientific, technical, or vocational skills.

Hmm. Based on that definition, then, art has something to do with creativity and expression. There is nothing in that definition that requires art to be elitist or accessible only to a privileged few. There is nothing in that definition that suggests that something popular cannot be considered art.

To me art is something that elicits emotions and makes a person think. That doesn’t mean it has to be so obscure that your brain does gymnastics trying to uncover the deep hidden meaning of a piece of art.

abstract art;Compo,3332.555/ oil on canves. bi...

abstract art;Compo,3332.555/ oil on canves. biography; (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Occasionally I enjoy the mental gymnastics created by looking at a piece of art that means many things to many people. I like discussing theatrical productions that can be interpreted in multiple ways depending on your relationship to the art. Look at my post called “A Weekend of Powerful Arts”  for proof of this. I believe that arts should motivate thought and discussion, as well as interpretation.

But, even the simplest piece of art allows for interpretation.

Boys in a Pasture, Winslow Homer

Granted art like the above Winslow Homer piece requires skill and talent, but the picture is clearly of two boys in a pasture. What needs to be interpreted? Well, to me the power of art like this is the potential for a story. The questions it raises. Why are these boys sitting in the pasture? What are they looking at? What happened right before they sat down? Did they plan to meet here or meet each other by accident and decide to sit and rest. Why are they sitting in the middle of the pasture, rather than under a tree? What are they talking about?

When I look at or read a piece of art, my mind asks questions and I search for answers. The answers do not have to be hidden in obscurity for me to consider it art. Nor do I have to love a piece to call it art. Of course, I admire art that shows the skill of an artist, but art can be just as wonderful when it simply shows the heart of an artist and his/her interpretation of the world.

Sarah creates

“All art is an individual’s expression of a culture. Cultures
differ, so art looks different. ” (Henry Glassie)

How do you define art?

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23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather Henry
    Apr 08, 2012 @ 11:22:20

    Very beautiful. I agree with everything you said here. Art truly is an expression. :)


  2. Life in the Boomer Lane
    Apr 08, 2012 @ 12:26:52

    Interesting, especially in light of a segment I saw on 60 Minutes about the now multi-million dollar art industry, generated by the purchase and sale of work from artists who are considered avant garde. Some of these pieces (like a scribble on a board of wood) are being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. One video, a work of performance art, shows the artist at work, flinging paint randomly all over the walls of a bare white room. The segment precipitated a discussion bewteen Now Husband and me over what constitutes “art.” He and I are both painters, although one certainly doesn’t have to create art in order to have an opinion. I can look at this two ways: 1. If art is expression, period, than everything we express is art. No exceptions. And the work my 2.5 year old grandson produces or the art produced by smearing a canvas with chicken feces, has as much value as does the art of the Old Masters. 2. If art is something else, something that speaks to my humanity, something that tells me something about myself that I might not have known, something that elevates me from the place I had been before viewing it, then there is another definition or subset of art. Which is correct? Neither. Art, like any other form of human expression, can be disected and debated forever. I carry my definition of art inside me. I experience joy and exhileration and awe each time I see it. For me, that’s enough.


  3. Andra Watkins
    Apr 08, 2012 @ 12:59:00

    For much of my life, I defined art as something I couldn’t achieve. Now, it acts as a portal to view the world. It makes me cry. Cackle. Think. Dream. Explore. Reflect. Grow.


  4. Kathryn McCullough
    Apr 08, 2012 @ 15:50:16

    I don’t know how to define art. Too big a question for my brain today, but I sure love Sarah’s art. Tell her it’s beautiful–just like her!


  5. joannevalentinesimson
    Apr 08, 2012 @ 18:14:09

    Art – visual, verbal or musical – touches my emotions, enlarges my vision, and helps me to understand, vicariously, something about the world that the artist has experienced and tried to transmit.
    This is an outsider’s take on it, because I’m trained as a scientist, but one who greatly appreciates art. I might wish that more artists appreciated science!


    • Lisa Wields Words
      Apr 08, 2012 @ 20:15:51

      Joanne, I think that scientist are some of the most talented artists. It takes an artist to look at the world and see the possibilities from all the minute details, or to be able to question a hypothesis by seeing something others cannot see. The only thing that keeps me from science is that I struggle with the math involved, but I have always appreciated the power of the scientific mind. Once upon a time I wanted to be a marine biologist or a geologist.


  6. Kathy
    Apr 08, 2012 @ 18:30:13

    I like YOUR definition of art, Lisa. I am very distrustful of dictionary definitions….but definitions which touch the heart: a different matter! I saw that Thomas Kinkade had died. He’s exactly my age. This is truly a very thoughtful post. Thank you…


  7. Dana
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 23:24:24

    I saw that Kinkade had passed away and was pretty mortified to read some of the articles about his artwork not being “art”. Who gets to decide this? Who benefits from the officially sanctioned definition of artwork, and– more importantly– who gets left behind? I don’t think that creative expression needs to be obscure, expensive, or otherwise inaccessible to be considered “true art”. Anything that lifts the spirit or offers creative commentary on our world is art in my humble opinion. :)


  8. benzeknees
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 03:42:23

    I think art is anything (written word, music, painting/drawing, etc.) which touches your heart & makes you take a breath.


  9. Trackback: …’I think I am liberal’… | Word and sentence
  10. lesliepaints
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 22:01:29



  11. Robin Hawke
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 12:35:49

    My definition: Art is communication apart from a literal exchange.

    There are different art languages: scribbles, abstract, realistic, etc. The people who loved Kinkade’s work loved the particular art language he spoke.


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