What is Art?

What is the meaning of art? Beginning a conversation about visual art...

Attempt to define art.

What is art to you? 

Where does art fit into your life?  How have you experienced art?

What psychological, emotional, and aesthetic factors do you feel are involved in your appreciation of art?

What is the distinction between fine art and commercial art?
Fine art means that a skill is being used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of the finer things.

Often, if the skill is being used in a common or practical way, people will consider it a craft instead of art. Crafts and design are sometimes considered applied art. Applied arts refers to the application of design and aesthetics to objects of function and everyday use.

If the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way, it will be considered Commercial art instead of art. Commercial art is a subsector of creative services, and refers to art created for commercial purposes, primarily advertising.

From Encarta World Dictionary:
fine art n
1. artistic work that is meant to be appreciated for its own sake, rather than to serve some useful function
2. a course of study designed to teach students practical artistic skills as well as the theory and history of art
3. any art form, for example, painting, sculpture, architecture, drawing, or engraving, that is considered to have purely aesthetic value (often used in the plural)
4. something that requires great skill, talent, or precision (informal)

com·mer·cial adj
1. relating to the buying and selling of goods or services
2. appropriate or sufficient for the purposes of trade
3. produced in bulk for industrial use and often unrefined
4. done with the primary aim of making money
5. supported by revenue from advertising

What are some of the purposes of art?
To express emotion
To evoke emotion
To incite questions
To inform
To entertain
To decorate...

How is art experienced?
Through senses?
Through prejudices?
Or is it something else?...

What do you think the criterion/standards should be for a work to be considered art?


Film: My Kid Could Paint That, Directed by Amir Bar-Lev, 2007
A film about 4-year-old painter, Marla Olmstead

Film director Amir Bar-Lev said: One theme I tried to get at in the film was malleable nature of meaning-- how one person can look at a painting and see the work of a genius , and another can look at the same canvas and see a mess.


Consider the film by answering the following questions from the San Francisco Film Society study guides:

How do you feel about Marla and her family at the end of the film?

Why do you think the film maker chose to end the film the way he did?

Why do you think people were drawn to Marla's work?

Marla's work was compared to the works of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
Do you agree?  What are the similarities?
Abstract Expressionists" or "The New York School" were artists such as Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Franz Kline (1910–1962), Lee Krasner (1908–1984), Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), and  Clyfford Still (1904–1980).
There imagery was mainly abstract.
These artists broke away from "accepted conventions in both technique and subject matter." They made large scale works that "stood as reflections of their individual psyches.'"

Source: Abstract Expressionism | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jackson Pollock

Willem de Kooning

Franz Kline

Lee Krasner

Robert Motherwell

Clyfford Still

What is the definition of celebrity? What are some different ways people can achieve celebrity status?

The media (particularly the news media) could be considered another character in this film. What role did it play? (e.g. created desire for paintings, made Marla a celebrity, revived art debate, vilified parents)

Art Critic Michael Kimmelman says in the film "All art in some way is a lie... your documentary on some level is going to be a lie..." What does he mean?

Are these Mugshots art?

Mark Michaelson: Least Wanted

Arresting Faces by Katy June-Friesen


Andy Warhol: Most Wanted
Face Off by Chris Potter

"More than anything people just want stars..." stated Warhol. Was Warhol glorifying criminals in the above piece? Was he creating a platform on which to make them stars?

Andy Warhol

"It's very important to look at images and see where the real diverges from the artificial. We say a picture is worth a thousand words, but so much of a picture-- and the way it is framed-- is contrived..." How much and in what ways can an artist influence public opinion?

Should artists have a moral obligation to society when creating public works?

See the following debate:


Should artists have a moral obligation to their subjects when creating works?

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