What is Art?

By Sr. Spero

Those of us who have passed through several decades seem to have one unanswered question that circles through the years.  Mine is “what is art”?  I tried to answer the question in school with a confusing course on Aesthetics.  That didn’t work, and now, many years later, I’m no closer to the answer.  I have learned a couple of things though—that what I like and don’t like has little to do with art; that what moves me, or makes me cry, is not a test of art.  That what disgusts me is just as likely to be called great art.  And that art takes all forms—the visual arts, music, poetry, dance, theater, as well as the culinary arts, the art of smells–incense or perfume, and many more, such as flower arranging, architecture, and so on.  As a monastic at The Community of Jesus, I am surrounded by many forms of art; most recently, the art of making yogurt!

Tolstoy said “a writer [artist] is dear and necessary for us only in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul.”  I am pondering this as a definition of art.  Is that quality, so hard to pin down, recognizable in great art, simply a revelation of the “workings of the [artist’s] soul,” wrought through creative struggles with paint, sound, words, movement, even food?

I welcome your comments, thoughts and opinions.  

My next big question is “is all art subjective?”  or is there an objective measure – to which we can all say, “yes, that is great art.”  

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853 - 1890 ), Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853 – 1890 ), Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Public Domain.

One thought on “What is Art?

  1. Dear Sr. Spero, I’ve always felt art is very personal, it is the soul being touched by the supernatural hand of God and “creating” what that soul feels, is moved by, is want to express. I have had little art lessons and like to draw and even use some color. Every once in a while I am moved to express something inside me, I just have to “get it out” of my inner being. I feel it brings me closer to God when I allow myself to be touched by Him through a personal expression “art”.

    On the other hand, I always feel I want to be open to others, at times I feel somewhat replused by “their” expressions of “art”. I don’t want to criticize them, but unfortunately I have very strong feelings about what I like and don’t like.

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