Some thoughts on the definition and qualities of art

The other day I got in a conversation with someone about the definition of art.  As I reflected on this I said some interesting things:


First of all, I felt that art was not a ‘thing’, like a painting or sculpture, but a condition where something is expressed.  In other words, art is a dynamic phenemona, an experience, a doing.  This is done in two ways:

  1. Active – Something is expressed through some medium (such as creating a painting or playing music).
  2. Passive – Something that creates an expression within oneself (such as looking at a painting or listening to music).

In other words, the condition of art is something that is created by a person as a medium of expression (active), or something that inspires expression in oneself (passive).  This makes it so that art is a condition of being, a state of mind.  That is to say, it reflects a condition that one is in.  These two forms are totally different forms of art, though they are related.

To truly be ‘artistic’, or have an ‘artistic outlook’, requires both active and passive forms.  Both must be practiced as they complement each other and build upon each other.


By expression I mean something that ‘moves’ us in some way.  This ‘moving’ refers to some form of a ‘stirring’, generally, of a passion within us.  Sometimes, it can be mild.  Sometimes, it can be profound.  All in all, expression is a reference to how we are somehow being affected by art.  In other words, it does something to us, though we may not be sure how or why.  This means that art is something that triggers a ‘stirring’ in oneself that is often stirred in no other way.  In that sense, its like a trigger.

There seems to be a number of initial qualities to begin to experience art:

  • We must be affected.  That is to say, we must be receptive to art.  Not being able to “understand” the purpose or use of art is often a sign that a person lacks the quality of being affected or is unable to for some reason.
  • We must have something to express.  I think that what is expressed is generally unknown by the person.  It just ‘happens’.  This, in my opinion, is one of the powers of expression and art.  But, in order for this to happen, a person must have that ‘something’ within oneself.
  • We must have a medium of expression.  This medium is usually the specific art form that causes the ‘stirring’.  Often, without the correct medium something cannot be expressed.

As art impacts us more and more other things become critical in the experiencing of art which include:

  • The allowing of ourselves to be ‘stirred’ and to react.  That is to say, we must allow to cause a reaction in  us.
  • The need for skill and ability.  This is where many of us fail and never develop.
  • A sense of ‘harmony’.  Art is really a reflection of some form of harmony and this must be sensed.
  • The ability to create.  This is an ability that is not as easy to get as one thinks.

The development of these traits show that art is becoming more personal, requiring more of oneself to experience.  It also shows that it has more of an impact on a person.  It shows that one has become ‘artistic’.

Often, as one gets more into art, both actively and passively, practice and skill are required and, sometimes, a great deal of it.  The lack of practice and skill can greatly affect ones ability to experience art.  In some respects, a person must train themselves to experience art.


It seems to me that there is a natural resistence to art.  Often, this is something that requires a lot of effort to overcome at first.  Some people may never overcome it.

It seems to me that much of the difficulty in experiencing art is in the resistence of allowing oneself to be affected or ‘stirred’ by art.  Truly, to experience art one must first be ‘stirred’ or ‘moved’.  Without this first step, one will never know art.   But to be affected by art requires us to as if become ‘passive’ and dormant and receptive.  Not only that, this passive state is something that we must actively do.  In other words, we must “actively be passive”.  Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what life often requires, where we must be active and do things.  As a result, art often requires us to as if ‘go backward’ . . . and, sometimes, it can feel like that too.  Many people have difficulty doing this.

This shows that a trait of art is the willingness of taking a passive state.  For some guys, especially, this is difficult.  There are some guys who view art as ‘sissy’, no doubt because of its passive-state requirement.  In reality, though, the willingness of taking a passive state often takes great strength.

This passive state also has this quality of taking one ‘beyond ones self’.  That is to say, one becomes as if removed from themselves in art.  This makes it so that it opens up ‘doorways’ to other aspects of ones mind and self.  As a result, art can reveal a lot about ones inner life.  It can also cause a ‘rediscovery’ of aspects of oneself self that otherwise remains hidden and unknown.  This is one of the reason why art can be so thearapeutic.


Art, really, is a discovery of beauty in things.  But, more than that, art is an “experiencing” of the beauty in things.  In actuality, beauty can be found in practically anything, even the ugly, grotesque, and horrifying.  There are many forms of beauty and different ways to perceive it.  Life, really, is nothing but finding the forms that best suit us.

The beauty that one see’s is often a sign of ones state of mind.  This means that the beauty we see in one thing at one time may not be an item of beauty the next moment.  As a result, art often requires a certain state or frame of mind to experience.  Most certainly, a person could very well say that “learning art” is nothing but learning to get in that state or frame of mind.

The ‘beauty’ in things is something that is more than just a reaction.  The ‘truly beautiful’ as if speaks to us deep inside, in our souls.  It, in a way, implies a “communion”, a bond, between us and the item of beauty.  As a result of this, art implies a learning or revealing of the bond we have with things.  This is why it is so important to allow these feelings to come up within us, so that we know this bond and can experience them. 

This bond makes the beautiful as something that ‘grounds’ us in life creating a great connection like a root connects a tree to the earth.  This ‘grounding’ is one of the great powers of art, truly, and why it can have such an effect on our growth.  This is why I tend to feel that the cultivation of the artistic frame of mind is so good and beneficial.  In my opinion, it is more important than knowledge.

In addition, the harmony of art, really, is a sense of a ‘continuousness’ in things, that things are related and blend into each other.  Typically, we experience life in ‘pieces’.  Life seems to ‘jumps around’ from here to there and event to event.  This gives life an unharmonious quality to life.  The experience of art can open up an awareness of harmony and continuity in life, creating a sense of wholeness.  It seems that a trait of being ‘artistic’ is the development of this sense of harmony, that there is a continuousness in life and that life is not made up of pieces.  Developing this sense makes art more relevent and real and can have great affect on ones life.


If one practices active art one may find that much of ones artistic character follows a pattern of ones stance in life.  This is no surprise.  When one looks at it one finds that living, really, is nothing but a form of art.  It uses similar processes and techniques.  It also demands similar abilities and demands.  Its no surprise that many artists abilities and works are greatly influenced by their life and how they live it.  This is because life, in a way, is the basis of art:  from life art flows.  In this way, art sort of connects us to life and accentuates life and creating growth.  This is one of the reasons why art is so important.  This is why I always say:

“Live artistically.”

Making life as art is not as easy as it sounds, though.  Typically, art is through a specific medium (such as painting or sculpture) with specific techniques and principles.  Life as art is having life as a medium.  Life does not have specific techniques and principles but an incredibly broad range.  You must master many forms of mediums involving many abilities.  In reality, life as a medium of art can never fully be mastered which is why its an ongoing process and is something that goes on all ones life.

This entry was posted in Art, artistic expression, and things related with it, Life in general, Other stuff, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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