Even though there is a general agreement that art is the deliberate creation of something beautiful or meaningful using ability and imagination, there is no single universal concept of visual art. Throughout history and in various cultures, the meaning and perceived significance of works of art have shifted. No doubt, for example, the Jean Basquiat painting that sold at Sotheby’s auction in May 2017 for $110.5 million would have had difficulty finding an audience in Renaissance Italy.
The term “art refers to the Latin word “ars,” which means art, talent, or craft. The word’s first known use comes from manuscripts from the 13th century. However since Rome’s founding, the word art and its many variants (artem, eart, etc have probably existed.
Philosophy of Art
“The definition of art has been discussed among philosophers for centuries.”What is art? “is the most fundamental question in aesthetic philosophy, which really means, “How do we decide what is described as art? There are two subtexts involved: the fundamental essence of art and its social meaning (or lack of it). In general, the concept of art has fallen into three classifications: representation, language, and shape.
Art as Representation or Mimesis
The idea of art as “mimesis” was first introduced by Plato, which in Greek, means copying or imitation. For this reason, for centuries, the primary significance of art has been described as the depiction or reproduction of something beautiful or significant. A work of art was regarded until around the end of the eighteenth century on the basis of how faithfully it repeated its theme. “This definition of good art” has had a profound impact on modern and contemporary artists; as Gordon Graham writes, “It leads individuals to place a high value on very lifelike portraits such as those of the great masters-Michelangelo, Rubens, Velásquez, etc.-and to raise concerns about the value of ‘modern art-cubist Picasso’s distortions, Jan Miro’s surrealist figures, the abstracts.
Art as Expression of Emotional Content
During the Romantic movement, language became important, with artwork reflecting a definite emotion, as in the sublime or dramatic. Audience reaction was significant since an emotional response was intended to evoke the artwork. As artists strive to communicate with and elicit answers from their audiences, this concept remains true today.
Art as Form
Towards the end of the 18th century, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was one of the most influential early theorists. He claimed that art should not have a concept, but should instead be judged on its formal qualities, since it is not of artistic importance to the substance of a work of art. As art became more abstract in the 20th century, formal qualities were especially essential, and the concepts of art and design (balance, rhythm, harmony, unity) were used to describe and evaluate art.
Today, depending on the artwork being analyzed, all three types of meaning come into play in deciding what is art, and its importance.