What Art Is

So I just finished reading this book by Arthur C. Danto.


The painter Paul DeLaroche decreed that “Painting is dead!”  And it well should be in the advent of photography.  Since art, as Plato and Aristotle determined, was only meant to mimic nature nothing comes closer to depicting visual reality as photography.

Since art only mimics nature it is never truly as powerful as the reality itself.   But that is good.  Art helps us to make a distinction. Art definitely should not be reality right?  Because once art becomes reality it no longer becomes art and we thereby no longer are able to distinguish the two, thus it loses itself in its redundancy.   Now you are probably going to refer to Andy Warhols Brillo boxes. Andy’s Brillo boxes are pretty much identical to any Brillo boxes you find in a department store.  So what makes Andy’s Brillo boxes art?  Instead of answering this question with epistemology we would have to ask ontological questions.  What is the meaning of Andy’s boxes?  So now that we deal into the realm of conceptual art has art all but lost its dance with the aesthetics? As Danto Says, The point of the work is to subtract the perceptual differences between art and reality.  The only things which conceptually change then are not the visible similarities but the invisible differences. We infer meaning, or grasp meaning but meaning is not at all material.  

I’m afraid so and so does Arthur C. Danto.  Art is this sort of open concept it is subject to so many forces like:
 Market: Capitalist economy plays a role in what art becomes popular.

Museum/Academic:  An ouvre meets a certain set of standards therefore it can be considered art.

This is known as Institutional art theory. Something becomes are simply because we say it is art.

In this book Danto questions the aesthetics which, for so long, hounded the arts.  Aesthetics was a direct outgrowth of ethics which was an outgrowth of logic.  However in the early 20th century art began to separate from aesthetics with Duchamps Urinal.  Duchamp showed us that something can be art and not beautiful.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07573

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07573

It’s a good read for anyone interested in conceptual art and the futile attempts to discovery what makes art “art.”

My notes on this book:

Realist artists would be insignificant nowadays with the advent of the camera:
  representation discoveries: Perspective, Chiaroscuro (the study of light and shadow), physiogmy (The study of achieving naturalistic representations)
Ontology- the study of what it means to be something
Suprematist- art focused on geometric shapes
Hans Hoffman says to pollock : abstraction comes from nature pollock replies “I am nature”
Robert Motherwell coined the term doodling under Freudians psychic automatism for painting
Warhol- the transfiguration of the commonplace
Wittgenstein- having a definition does not make us wiser.
Paul delaroche- “painting is dead.”
“Abstract and Representational” -clement Greenberg
Hegel two kinds of spirit objective and absolute

The Best Artists Ask: What is Art? -Art for Arts Sake


Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

It is very difficult to properly determine exactly what this thing is which we humans call art. Some would say  art is that which makes us feel emotional or swept away by something created by someone else while others believe that art is that which causes us to critically view human reality and reevaluate society, politics, economy, culture etc.  Since there are so many different meanings and definitions it should be said that the greatest art is that which has no other purpose than to facilitate the understanding of art itself-“Art for the sake of art.”

Art is Interesting

The Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that art was just a representation of the natural world.  The best art, in his mind, was that which could create an illusion of reality or summon a sense of reality in the viewer.  He literally used the example of a wax figure as the perfect art form because upon approaching a wax figure, believing it to be a real person, one does not realize it is wax until further inspection.  Thus art was fraudulent yet there were only two truth elements that art aroused in its viewers: Beauty and Interest (curiosity). 

Art asks Questions


janine-antoni-touch-2002   So art was something which did not disclose truth in natural reality like objective fact but it disclosed an “ideal” truth.   In the 20th century the modern art movement known as “Conceptualism” began to center its focus on expressing more abstract concepts that were not so easily represented pictorially.  This caused people to reevaluate their previous notions of the concepts.  Some of these ideas that the conceptualists began to convey were:

  • time
  • place
  • identity
  • spirituality
  • language
  • the body

Art is Beautiful

There are those in the school of aesthetic theory who believe that they can determine the artistic quality of something based on it’s beauty.  The idea of sublimity was  a quasi-religious veneration of nature.  Art which produced a “sublime reaction “induced” extraordinary phenomenon in the viewer.

Photography is Plato’s Ultimate Artistic Medium

To Plato art was an imitation of nature.  So if the goal of the artist was to reproduce the things he sees in nature as accurately as possible then all artists would be photographers because nothing visually portrays reality better than the medium of photo.

Art is Creative IMG_0024

Thomas Hobbes had a far broader interpretation of art.  He saw art as the artificial or that which directly stemmed from mans manipulation of natural events.  He divided things between the “Natural” and the “Artificial.”  Nature, he thought, was a “The art whereby God hath made…” while the Artificial was the things that stemmed from mens own creations.  In this sense everything man made is art.

Interpreting art is a creative process itself  Readers and viewers of texts and images necessarily create their own meanings.  According to Roland Barthes no author or artist can fully dictate how others will decode an existing work of art.   Art is subjective and means different things to different people.  As Schopenhauer said, “The inner truth of a representation as to it’s corresponding ideal cannot be perceived by others.”  Quite simply the art is yours to make of it.  I implore you to ask the same question right now.  What is art?


Themes of Contemporary art: Visual art after 1980

Jean robertson, Craig McDaniel published 2005


Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy 1831