Published on 10 Jun 2021.
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“What Is Art?” Fourteen Short Answers

How do you define art? What is art? Here are some definitions that I’ve collected…

Dictionary definitions #

“[Art refers to] works produced by human creative skill and imagination.” — Oxford English Dictionary

“Art is the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects the art of painting landscapes (also**:** works so produced)” — Merriam-Webster

“Art is a diverse range of (the products of) human activities involving the conscious use of creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas.” — Wikipedia

Philosophical definitions #

“Art can only be called beautiful if we are conscious of it as Art while yet it looks like Nature.” — Immanuel Kant, when distinguishing between art and nature

“…aesthetic pleasure in the beautiful consists, to a large extent, in the fact that, when we enter the state of pure contemplation, we are raised for the moment above all willing, above all desires and cares; we are, so to speak, rid of ourselves.” — Schopenhauer writing about the aesthetic experience

Definitions that focus on what art should do #

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” — Banksy

“Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.” — Keith Haring

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” — Thomas Merton

“All artists have the desire to please; and art is most simply and most usually defined as an attempt to create pleasing forms.” — Herbert Read

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” — Pablo Picasso

Pithy definitions #

“Art is contemplation.” — Auguste Rodin

“Art tells you things you don’t know, you need to know, until you know them.” — Peter Schjendahl

“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” — Rene Magritte

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” — Edgar Degas

“We have art in order not to die of the truth.” — Nietzsche


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