What IS art?

Ahhh….the age old question. What is art?  What defines it?  Who or What says “that piece hanging on the wall is art!”  What is the difference between a finger painting that a toddler creates in the backyard and an oil painting hung in a famous art show?  Who says which is more priceless or beautiful?

People have been asking these questions for years and I have been interested in this subject since my first and last art class in college.  It was an art history course and it was amazing.  Next to my aforementioned children’s literature class, it was my most memorable class experience to date.  Our instructor “dr. Carlos” was amazing.  In love with art.  Knew everything.  Made you think you were an artist.  Even if you weren’t (and I’m clearly not, as exhibited by my final project).  You know the type.  

Ever since that class, I have pondered the definition of art.  Not because I have to understand to ease my mind.  Just because it’s interesting to me.  I know people that collect art pieces. I know some people that only purchase “edgy” art. I know some people that refer to the art in their home as “adult art” or “real art” or “fine art”, as opposed to the kitschy pieces I have bought which might be considered “cute” or “crafty art”.  I know some people that could not care LESS about art on the whole and would prefer a print or something bought at the swap meet. I know some people that prefer textiles to traditional art.  I know some people that think modern art is a joke. I know some from the younger generation that would look at a Van Gogh/Degas and think it is boring and “old”. I even know people that will think that this post is lame, irrelevant and unimportant.


As a crafter, I have often wondered what separates the things I create from “art”.  What separates a beautifully pieced quilt from a painting on a canvas?  


I have several pieces in my home created by BIRD NERD in the Bay area. The ones I have are individually painted and linocut on hard canvas and are beautiful.  I own several pieces from ELLOH.  She hand paints images from movies and tv shows.  Very cool.  I have some items from theblackapple on ETSY.  She is their highest seller and hand pencils and paints everything herself.  It’s adorable.  Beautiful paintings.  

  Most would not consider these “fine art”.  Definitely not “adult art” to some.  But….why?  Is it because it is “pop culture inspired”? Cutesy?Because so was Andy Warhol and his stuff is pretty stinkin’ expensive.  Warhol used pop culture icons and brands as his art (Campbells soup, Coca-Cola, Lizza Minnielli etc) and it was largely misunderstood, at first.  Was it considered art?  Is it?  Do you consider it art?


What about photography?  I know plenty of people that would not consider a picture hanging in a home art.  But, what if that photo was copied and used to create a painting and THEN hung?  Would it be considered art THEN?  If you don’t consider photography art, what about Ansel Adams work?  What about landscape photos that take your breath away.  What about Edward Curtis, Annie Lebowitz or Dorothea Lange?  Some of their photos are works of art (to me).  Why not to others?  If I had a HUGE original photo by Adams in my living room, would that be art?  What about another original photo taken by my friend Jules?  Would that not be art because she isn’t famous (yet)?jules*Jules photos*


What about an artist that you don’t understand?  Say for instance Jackson Pollock.


This is me (in one of my prouder moments) at the MET in New York, next to Autumn Rhythm No. 30 by Pollock.  I love this artist.  I have since high school.  Amazing.  To see it up close was breathtaking.  So immense and layered.  Colorful and simple.  HOWEVER….

Many people have expressed his art was nothing more than “splatter paint”.  Miss K could do the same thing and better.  It’s “unimaginative” and doesn’t take talent.  I have heard all these things.  To some, it is not art at all.  To me, it is brilliant.

My friend Mary loves the artist Mark Rothko.  He was also shown at the MET and we were able to see his art while in NYC:


I don’t particularly care for his art at all.  I don’t see the beautiful nature that Mary does.  I don’t appreciate it the way she does and I’m sure some other people don’t either.  Some may look at it (even one or two I have spoke with that are “well versed” when it comes to the world of art) and think that it is too simplistic.  No point of view.  Uninspired.

So….where does that leave Pollock and Rothko?  They are art, yes?  They are in the MET.  People pay millions for their work. They are “fine art”, yes?  Then….does that mean that they are more artisitc than the painting that an emerging artist in East LA creates?


I have asked two friend to jot down thier thoughts on this interesting topic.  Part One is written by my friend Jenn.  Her boyfriend is an art dealer in LA.  Jenn and I talk about art/creating/expression (amongst many other hot topics) all the time.  I always appreciate her outlook on things, even when we don’t see eye to eye.  She challenges me to look at things differently.

Part Two is by my friend Melissa Munding.  I met her at a craft show I was involved in.  Aside from painting, she creates her own jewelry (check it out here).  She is so talented (and sweet) and I especially appreciate these two paintings she has created:



(both are word documents for you to download and read)

What is Art Part One

What is Art Part Two


Read these and begin to define what YOU think art is.  What are some of your favorite pieces of art?  What is art to you?  Who is your favorite artist?


I need to remain true to myself and add this in.  

The entire time I was making this post, I was thinking about the origination of art.  Where did it come from?  I believe that the first artist was the Lord.  He created the earth and its expanse from NOTHING.  NADA.  Talk about imagination.  Each time I look at a landscape, a sunset, a small bubbling creek lined with daffodils or a family of birds flying in perfect formation….

I realize that the first.ultimate.most creative.talented. artist is

the Lord.



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7 responses to “What IS art?

  1. Love this topic! I agree with Jenn that art is what YOU decide is art, whether it’s fine art, photography, street art, or crafty art. For many years I was petrified to hang anything on my walls that wasn’t “art.” Until I found the confidence that what we want to call art – whatever they may be – and the pieces we wanted to surround ourselves with and look at everyday is “art,” as defined by us.

    We have one piece of “adult” art that was painted by Jake’s aunt and is very modern, and several of my own photographs (which I wouldn’t consider art, necessarily). I also have a photo I bought on etsy of a ferris wheel that I just love. Each of these pieces evokes strong emotions for us – it reminds us of people or places or feelings or memories. That to me is the importance of art in one’s home – that it represent who YOU are and that it gives you great joy to look at and admire. It is simply irrelevant whether or not someone else likes your art, or whether someone would even consider it “art” – plain and simple.

    Now I need more money so I can collect more art…

  2. Heidi

    Great topic. I think I’m just echoing what Melissa said above. I think art is whatever you want it to be. Everything that hangs in my house has a story or history related to it. I don’t want anything hanging in my personal space that doesn’t mean something to me.

    My favorite artist, Duchamp. The minute I saw Nude Descending a Staircase (btw, in my art history class in college), I have been mesmerized by this piece. It draws me in. I can’t explain why I feel such a passion for this piece. I could stare at it all day.

  3. fabulous topic. i feel like i discuss this all the time because of my profession. I have always felt that I was an “artist” because of my creative spirit but would never define myself as a “good artist” because people dont usually pay money for my work.
    i agree w/ melissa and jenn that art is subjective. its all in the eye of the beholder and I do believe that art is supposed to evoke SOME kind of emotion from you wether good or bad.
    I’ve had the pleasure of taking several art course over the last 15 years and I always enjoy learning what other people think is art and talent. We had a field trip to LACMA and I was the most excited (maybe cuz I was older and could appreciate it?) i found so many different artist there who’s works were not what mainstreamists would call “art”, light installations, shadow play etc….. and it was interesting to see even w/ in the group that I was in how we all picked different pieces and what they meant to us.
    I personally consider photography an art. Yes anyone can take a photo but its how that photo is composed that makes it art.
    I am a makeup artist. I create “wearable art” for those who request it. it can be simple like that of mary’s Rothko or a bit more complex and layered like your Pollack. but either way to ME and the person I’m making up….. its art and it makes me feel good to do it. When I create looks for people,I feel how I imagine Jackson Pollack feels looking at a fresh canvas. Excited, nervous, hopeful and ready to give each person my all and make them my “masterpiece”.
    I will have to say though that some of my favorite art – is that created by my child. Oddly she has a real talent and we encourage her to express her inner painter, and sketch artist so we have an abundance of “artwork” on our fridge , at Damon’s office and on both of my parents refridgerators, she feels famous and like she can create anything. So I feel like i’m doing my job as a parent!

  4. Your Brother

    My views on art are simplistic. Art=paint a picture.

    The hardest picture to paint is the one that others cannot touch, or see.

    Every sunday I drag myself away from the TV and I have the greatest artist in the world paint vivid images and scenery in my mind and Im in awe of how fluid he is and the amazing things that he paints for me.

    He paints a picture for you like no one else can. All by himself he renders one of the most complex games ever created in your mind so that you can see everything with detail and imagery. A spike in his voice or a low southern Brooklyn drawl is like a paintbrush on an easel.

    Art to me is the production of imagery and spirit through the applicators that God has given you. Vin Scully is the greatest artist I have ever known.

  5. Michelle Eastman

    Art = beauty


  6. Mary L

    This topic reminds me of the debates we’d have in my 20th century music class in college about what defined music. John Cage is kind-of the Jackson Pollock of the music world. He is famous for a piece he composed entitled 4’33” in which a pianist goes and sits down at a piano for exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds and plays nothing. It is completely silent. He talks about this piece here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcHnL7aS64Y I like his definition of music (I only could watch the beginning of this because my computer is going crazy). That music is music when something is trying to be communicated. A modern music piece could sound just like noise to me, but when it is trying to tell us something, it becomes something more. And I think that definition works for art as well. Art is art when an artist is seeking to communicate to the world through the medium of his/her choice.
    Ok, I am so inspired to go visit a museum already! The Getty anyone?

  7. What a great post Rachel! So thoughtful and well written. God is the great artist, I agree. And my favorite artists are my kids. Kids are so true– straight from heart to hand…
    I believe that anyone who is truly expressing themselves and not imitating is an artist. A gardener can be an artist, and a pie baker too. In fact, I believe we are all artists.

    I just read an amazing book by theologian Matthew Fox titled “Creativity” It’s all about creativity, art, artists, and the power of creativity to transform. I’m going to do a post on it soon.

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