Updated: Sep 27
It's an age old question and I can't really tell you. But I can write 4-5 paragraphs about what I think
I'm not very interested in discussing the art that most confuses you. I think you know the art I mean. The bananas duct taped to the wall. Or NFT's -- Nonfungible Tokens-- any digital form (such as an image or video) which are not interchangeable and can be sold for anything from ten to 10 billion dollars. There has been garbage and useless things sold for large sums all over the world throughout history.
The sale of something completely talentless, useless, ugly, without talent or merit for $$$$$$$$$$$ simply to be talked about in the world makes me think of the depravity of man. It is the age old worship of money, power and fame for both the artist and the collector.
Maybe it's impossible to talk about without sounding bitter and skeptical.
Maybe if I sold an NFT for 5 billion dollars I would say something different.
Nevertheless, the easiest explanation is greed. If you find another motive, please let me know.
The categories have always and will always overlap in a myriad of ways.
This is primarily why is it so difficult to pin down what makes art art and what makes art good.
1) Art- the visual
Let's start with visual because it is the most accessible and the most universally accepted. I think visual beauty goes hand in hand with skill/talent. So to avoid too many headings, let's say art that is skillfully made and beautiful qualifies itself as art. Now if you only have this category, it is going to allow for a lot of doctor office/stock art to qualify as art. But thankfully there are also different categories of art: fine art, illustration art, decorative art etc. A piece that falls into only this category is likely to be decorative art.
2) Art- the emotional
There's also art that is art because it provokes emotion. Emotional merit and spiritual merit are the two hardest to quantify because art will never affect the viewer the exact same way. Personally, I think if you can incorporate beauty, skill and emotion that can be considered fine art. Emotional art will often start from a place of emotion. Decorative art that is made to be bought and sold wholesale is often created to appeal to the public. Art made from a place of emotion is thought of in the mind, believed in the heart and flows from the practiced hands of the artist. Van Gogh is often quoted talking about the emotional quality of creating and the hope that his viewer sees that emotion. “I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say 'he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.'” (Vincent Van Gogh, the link below) He wanted his art to affect others' emotions.
3) Art- the intellectual
Art is also highly intellectual. This covers a number of categories such as historical or political. Art has always been an instrument of historical record or political motivations. The art world often goes from one extreme to the other. I can think of several examples where art was used to make the point of those in power and then artists rebelled to make art exclusively decorative, spiritual or emotional.
Compare Neo-Classicism to Romanticism.
Art that focuses on historic or political subjects are super important. Paintings, sculpture, dances etc. can become a capsule of a historical moment. It is a means for the "common man" to speak against "the man." It can be, and often is, a way to be counter cultural in a way other facets of life can't be.
Art that fits in this category is often accepted as fine art. I get that. But I think there's also something to be said for having a standard. If I package garbage (without thought or beauty or skill) and sell it does that really mean I'm a fine artist making a statement about our society or am I a scam artist making money on your naivete?
Intellectual art does not have to be historical or political. Art that has any thought put into it is intellectual. So except for the very mindless creation of mass produced works art can usually be categorized as intellectual. Aristotle is quoted as saying: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” (Aristotle, the link below). Art at it's best, reveals something true about life. It says something that the written word can't.
4) Art- the spiritual
You might be thinking "hey she gave the religious art it's own category rather than putting it in the intellectual section." Hear me out.
Art is not spiritual just because it is religious. Actually, I think there is probably 40-60% (I just made that up) of religious art that doesn't even approach the spiritual. There is also art that is not religious at all but is still deeply spiritual. Keep in mind spiritual doesn't necessarily mean heavenly. I can recall several instances of feeling a spiritual depression in an art gallery or museum. The artist's personal view of spiritual topics leak through the art whether they intend it or not. Maybe they intended to make you upset over the raping of the earth's resources but they might not have intended the spiritual quality of hopelessness that accompanies that subject.
I was reading a book about the German Expressionists, painter's known for their emotional view of art. I can't recall which artist was quoted but he said "Art is the longing for God." That sums it up for me.
You could be completely unreligious and look at a beautiful painting of lines and color and be brought to tears. That's emotional. But if you crack open nearly any book on the topic of art you will find that people throughout history have felt that art is more than emotion. Art brings the unbeliever closer to the spiritual. Art touches that soul within our animal bodies that knows there is something we aren't seeing with our eyes.
In the end. It all overlaps. Some say that you don't need all categories. I can get behind that.
But also I think that art at it's highest is all of the above- created with skill to be beautiful, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
See my second post on this subject which discusses best practices for
when you see that "high brow intelligible art"
Also I've probably missed everything important.
See this link full of what "the greats" thought art is.