Defining Art


Art is a cultural activity that can take many forms, such as painting, sculpture, architecture and drawing. It is often seen as a means of expressing emotions, ideas or beliefs, and it has been used to convey political, social or spiritual messages. Art can also be used to challenge perceptions or create a sense of beauty, or simply for enjoyment.

Defining what art is has long been a challenging task. One approach, called conventionalism, asserts that art is anything that is created or made using a combination of skill and creativity that reflects an artist’s intention to convey an idea, feeling or belief. This concept of art includes a wide range of mediums and styles, such as traditional painting, modernism and contemporary abstract painting. Other approaches have attempted to define art in more specific terms, such as a way of grasping the world. This view defines the term to encompass all aspects of the world, not just the physical material universe (see metaphysics).

The most popular and well-known definition of art is that it is an object or work of art that combines skill and creativity with a specific purpose, whether that be to convey a message, entertain, or create a sense of beauty. Some works of art have a clear narrative, while others are more open to interpretation or may be intentionally vague.

Another method of understanding art is to consider the work’s context, which is what it means to the artist who created it. This can be as simple as the year in which the artwork was made. Text panels and captions will often contain this information, but you can also learn more about the context of a piece by looking at how it is presented (e.g., the size, framing and placement of elements).

You can also try to understand an artwork’s form by looking at the structure of its components. For example, how is movement conveyed? How is the space within the work divided up, and how does it affect the overall composition? Look for the use of line, shape and colour to create depth and movement.

For some artists, the purpose of creating art is to raise awareness for a wide variety of social or environmental issues. This type of art is sometimes known as protest or activist art. Examples include raising awareness of autism, Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer, as well as global warming, indigenous rights, poverty and pollution.

Another important function of art is to bring together disparate communities, through art that shares a common language. This is usually seen in the form of folk arts, such as music, dance, poetry and literature, but it can also be found in more modern forms such as movies, video games and advertising. The internet has also opened up new channels for art to share with the world and create connections. These can be found in the form of online galleries and virtual exhibitions, such as the TEDxArtOnline initiative.