In our modern day society, we are constantly surrounded by forms of creative expression: images, sounds, dances, food, and more. They are with us in times of joy and they help us express sorrow. Sometimes they are part of the environment and left for each to experience in his or her own way. Collectively, we often think of these forms of expression as art. Even mundane tasks such as cooking is often considered artful. But what is art? Why do all cultures around the world express themselves with painted objects, songs, and dances? So that is the mission I sent myself on, to rediscover what is art.
Before you read any further, I want you to leave a comment sharing what you think art is. Okay, now that you’ve done that and have an idea of what you think it is, I can share with you my journey to discovering what I believe it is.
Art takes the intangible and makes it tangible. An artist can give form to intangible emotions and share them with the world, creating an experience everyone can be a part of, making it tangible. These deep sentiments can be reflected through tangible objects. For example, anger can be reflected through a snarling gargoyle on the side of a cathedral, passion through a meticulously prepared meal for loved ones, love through a bright red handkerchief held by two lovers in a painting (or personality through the photos we post on Instagram). People of all demographics can understand the tangible objects being represented, thus, they are able to hypothesis on what the meaning behind them is.
A feature of art that distinguishes it from entertainment or ornamentation is that it functions a symbolic form of expression. Art speaks to us on many levels. On the surface we recognized objects and forms. With deeper examination, however, we can discover hidden relationships and meaning. Great art provides multiple layers of meaning. Each viewing provides us with new insights and understanding, requiring that we engage and invest ourselves in the experience.
Art is a kind of language that exists outside the domain of words. It provides an open canvas for artists to speak about the unspeakable, letting their creativity and feelings be expressed for all to understand. An expression of one’s personal emotions cannot be confined to one definition, however, thus it takes on endless forms and can be interpreted in multiple ways through diverse perspectives. Often works of art absorb the collective interpretations of entire communities. The Pieta, for example, is an expression not only of Michelanelo’s aesthetics, but of the beliefs of a civilization accumulated over centuries. If one’s true feelings could easily be put to words, there would be no need for art because everyone would have the ability to clearly express how they feel. But this is not the case. Art thus becomes a constant struggle to form an avenue to express what words can’t convey. All people don’t understand the same words because we speak different languages, however, we can all understand human emotion, thus we can understand art. When we see a person laughing, we know they’re happy and when we see someone crying, we know they’re sad. This is because all humans share the same means of communication through emotion, thus art provides this communication in a world where we can easily lose touch with our true self.
Art can be like an alternate world, one we create that stands in contrast to the world we regularly live in. It can be like a dream that turns into a vivid reality of hidden pleasures and fears for both the artist and members of a society. It provides a polished version of what we wish our world looked like. Or, art can be the raw truth, showing the hardships, struggles, and success that the artist is living in. It acts as both an escape and an outreach, sometimes lending help to those in need, but at other times sending a call for help.
Art gives people something to question, contemplate, and compete with. It’s a never ending process that will constantly change along with the society and the members of it. Art both depends on the artist, the storyteller, and the audience, however, it is the audience’s responsibility to be open to the new ideas that might be put at them and those that may contrast their beliefs. Art is imitation, expression, application, and imagination.
Below I am including something my father wrote about art a few years ago. I thought it connected to what I wrote, thus, I am sharing it with you.
“All works of art tell stories of the societies from which they are born. Whether it’s a Madonna carved from an elephant tusk, a symphony, or an immersive theatrical event, art is what happens when our values and beliefs are given form and shaped into experiences. Art is a product of our collective need to share and preserve the essence of who we are. Just as a writer uses metaphor to add depth and meaning to his work, art itself is a metaphor for civilization and humanity.”
~ Special credit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the use of their collection of artwork. ~