Defining Art by What it’s Not

Published Nov. 10th 2009


What is art, you ask? It must be definition day.

But won’t it be easier to define art by what it ISN’T? Perhaps. Actually, probably.

So here’s my take:

1. Art isn’t the thing you hang on your wall to match your sofa.

2. Art isn’t the thing you hang on your wall, that you are sure your friends will approve of because they all have a copy hanging on their walls.

3. And on that note, art isn’t a copy or reproduction of an original piece of art.

4. Art isn’t something featuring the year’s top five “decorator colors”

5. Art isn’t something you made because you think somebody will buy it.

I wish I had a list of inspirational quotes from great artists of the past regarding art. We can see that they knew what it was, because of what they left behind: ART.

And THAT makes me think of the time I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Art Institute in Chicago.

The place was packed with other people all trying to see the paintings as well. You were supposed to be polite, look at the painting, and move on. . . nope. I was rude and I stopped. For a long time I stopped, because the painting required me to look at it for a long time.

That’s art. It makes your eyes not want to leave. It makes you not want to leave.

But realistically, it doesn’t have to be Starry Night, or Luncheon Of The Boating Party, or Young Girl Writing to be art. Even you or I can make something that is truly “art.”

All it needs is to have at least a smidgeon of something that all three of those paintings have—it has to be INTERESTING.

Maybe it matches your sofa, too. That’s OK. If it’s interesting then you can call it art. Your eyes want to look because it’s interesting, not because it matches your sofa.

And maybe it does contain all five of the current year’s top decorator colors—but forget that, if it’s so interesting that you want to look at it all the time, then it’s art.

OK, and one more thing. . . besides being interesting, “art” also has to be real.

There are two kinds of real—there’s “real” as in honest-created-from-the-heart-real AND there’s “real” as in original, not-a-copy, not-a-reproduction.

A poster of Starry Night I can leave. It may be interesting, but it’s just a poster. Starry Night, the original, made me want to stay.

And look some more.

Now that’s art.

For more articles by Karen Cooper, please visit her art blog.

Did you like this article? Share it!
Then check out the related posts below.
Today’s featured artist is John Vias, a photographer from Berkeley, California. Unlike most photographers, Vias takes his photos at night, creating surprisingly colorful (and memorable) scenes by leaving his camera shutter open for a longer period of time than traditional point-and-click photo. . . read more
Last summer I had a close encounter with a grizzly bear. As might be expected, it was a significant event. . . but what's unexpected is how it has shaped my view of both my life and my art. The story begins in Glacier National Park where I was visiting our son. My sister-in-law and I had split. . . read more
Some of my other articles explain how to photograph your 2D artwork (and then what to do if your paintings turn out crooked or skewed) but in this tutorial I'm going to show you how to use Adobe Photoshop's curves tool to fix photographs of your art that are all washed out. And obviously the c. . . read more
I’ve always been amazed by Michelangelo. I can’t imagine what would be like to paint the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – the enormity of it just blows my mind. What was his secret? How did he accomplish such a Herculean task? Certainly he had great talent, but it wasn’t talent that led . . . read more
What was Mannerism? Simply put, Mannerism was the art movement that took place immediately after the Renaissance during the 16th century. It was an interesting time for art. . . Michelangelo, da Vinci, and many other Renaissance artists had filled Europe with incredible, classical, works of ar. . . read more
Stay current.
Subscribe to EmptyEasel's free weekly newsletter for artists. Sign up today!
CanvasFlyer
Art Contests
More art contests. . .
EE Writers
Alyice Edrich Cassie Rief Steff Metal Niki Hilsabeck Brandi Bowman Michelle Morris Lisa Orgler Adriana Guidi Carrie Lewis Aletta de Wal Erin SparlerLuke Montgomery

Want to be a writer for EmptyEasel? Paid positions are available, and the perks are great! Contact us to apply