What is art?

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Tractor by Joanne Carrubba, 2014

The question posed in this post is a big, and very loaded one: What is art? What is it that makes something art? Is it something that is created by anyone, or by specific people? Can we call the photo above “Art?” It is important that we think about this as we go through an Art Appreciation class. Each person will have a different interpretation here, since art is inherently subjective, but art is a constant across cultures. On a basic level, art is something that allows us to communicate something about ourselves and our culture.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Dada movement was founded in Zurich, Switzerland. The artists associated with this movement were heavily impacted by the chaos of World War I, and questioned whether they were witnessing the destruction of society, and a descent into chaos. This questioning took different forms in different places and with various artists, but one, Marcel Duchamp, created the idea of the “readymade,” or objects that he found or bought, and altered in slight ways to create sculptures or other art objects. One of underpinnings of this was the questioning of what made something art; was it the artist or the object? These readymades were often humorous, but the idea behind this is central to the initial question posed in this blog post: What makes something art? This is extremely important considering the high value placed on “fine art” objects today, a value often impacted more by the maker of the object than the object itself.

Contemporary art is also rife with these questions, with the proliferation of installation art and street art. Many artists use these types of art making to highlight political issues, bring attention to the needs of minority communities, or poke fun at something. Contemporary artists often also use materials not previously associated with art making, creating work from food or recycled materials.

Art is, and can be, many things to many people. One of the things to remember is the importance of keeping an open mind as you learn about and explore art.

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