When is something art?

When is something art?

When is something a picture and when is something really art? When do you now know whether something is art or rather kitsch? This question was asked by me and my fellow students during our education at the art academy. This subject often led to heated discussions about art between students and teachers during evaluation of our work.

From pictures to stories

Since ancient times, people have been making pictures or images of what they see around them. In the Stone Age it was hunting scenes. Images also served to pass on stories and important events to the next generations. In ancient times, and later in the Greek and Roman world, they became images of religious symbols and gods. With the advent of Christianity, Bible stories were mainly depicted.

From mere imagery to hyper-realism

In the Middle Ages, the church and later the rich bourgeoisie played an important role in the development of art in the Renaissance. The art was to emphasize the richness and prestige of the church, the royals, the distinguished nobility, and of wealthy merchants. Artists also started to paint in a more realistic way during this time. The ‘camera obscura’ and mirrors were probably used for this purpose to help the artist be able to accurately depict people.

When art went its own way

In the 19th century a major change took place in the art world. Artists became less interested in the classical assignments of depicting people, buildings and landscapes. Impressionism artists started to study what colors on the canvas actually do with the viewer. They started experimenting more with combination and application of colors. People no longer copied exactly what they saw in real life. More and more it was about the interpretation of what the artist saw and how he wanted to communicate this to the viewer. In addition to the use of color, painters also started to play more with form. Painters like Picasso started to paint fewer and fewer things in true-to-life form, but painters came up with their own forms that became abstractions of reality. The content had also changed. The artists began to tell their own story.

The story behind the arts

Visual art that originated at the end of the 19th century had now become a kind of philosophical discussion where artists respond to each other’s work with their art over the years. From figurative art, painters turned to abstract art. From applying natural colors, artist started using bright unnatural colors. From thin layered paint artist chose to use thick layers of paint. From an orderly representation artists seemed to intentionally create total of chaos in their representation of subjects. From recognizable objects and images, artists painted completely unrecognizable images.

Why still paint at all?

In the 1960s, some people even reached a point where they saw painting as a thing of the past. With the invention of photography and the media, people seemingly no longer ‘needed’ a paintbrush to portray things. Yet the art of painting has still remained. Interestingly enough, figurative painting is also making a serious comeback.

So … what is art?

So what makes an image really art? Art is a kind of language, a conversation with the viewer. A work of art must impress the viewer and convey a certain feeling. Better yet, give the viewer something to think about. An image really becomes art if the artist succeeds in conveying to the viewer an intention or message behind the image. Good art gives the viewer a new experience or insight. If the image does not convey something to the viewer but is a nice picture or a decorative ornament it’s more a matter of good craftsmanship. There is nothing wrong with that, it might just not be “art”, but it can be pretty.

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