What Is Art?

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That question is in the air again. From Plato's Republic to Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures, the definition of art has kept us thinking for a very long time. And as time has gone on, more diverse art forms have asked for a place in the gallery, further complicating the question. One of those emerging forms has been the comic book. In the hands of artists like Art Spiegelman the graphic novel is making a confident play at the hierarchy. So can the comic provide a small clue to the big question?

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode: But is it Art?

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One of the great paradoxes of human endeavour is why so much time and effort is spent on creating things and indulging in behaviour with no obvious survival value – behaviour otherwise known as art.

Attempting to shed light on this issue is problematic because first we must define precisely what art is. We can start by looking at how art, or the arts, were practised by early humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, and immediately thereafter.

This period is a far longer stretch of human history than the “modern” age and so how the arts were practised during it should serve as the starting point for any viable explanation. And while art in the modern world is often exploited as a means of expressing individualism, during most of cultural evolution it was utilised by small hunter-gatherer groups as a means of articulating social norms among most, if not all, members of a community...

Continue reading Derek Hodgson's article: What's the point of art?

Further Reading

The definition of art is controversial in contemporary philosophy. Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy. The philosophical usefulness of a definition of art has also been debated.

Contemporary definitions are of two main sorts. One distinctively modern, conventionalist, sort of definition focuses on art’s institutional features, emphasizing the way art changes over time, modern works that appear to break radically with all traditional art, and the relational properties of artworks that depend on works’ relations to art history, art genres, etc. The less conventionalist sort of contemporary definition makes use of a broader, more traditional concept of aesthetic properties that includes more than art-relational ones, and focuses on art’s pan-cultural and trans-historical characteristics...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Definition of Art by Thomas Adajian

Bonus Webcomic

Art - SMBC

Related Topics

If you’re interested in art, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Aesthetics | Beauty | Music | Poetry

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