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Emma Whitford: What is Art?

September 15, 2009

"Woman Combing Her Hair" (1886) Degas

If I try to define clearly what art IS, it becomes possible to start pointing out what art ISN’T. Therefore, I would define art as broadly as possible. Art is a tangible object, a movement, a sound, an image, or an outpouring of thought that has been produced by some human effort, however small. Art cannot exist in a vacuum, and, like an historical fact, is more meaningful when considered in context.  For example, Beethoven’s symphonies are more meaningful in the context of his deafness and his legless piano. Art is also the means by which we find beauty in seemingly mundane acts and simple human rituals (Degas, above).  It can be an artist’s means by which to make sense of his surroundings.  Art can project the artist’s intention and at the same time allow the observer to gain something entirely unique and personal.

This quote is from an Emerson reading for a class I’m taking called “Literature of the American Renaissance.”

Art is creativity, and Emerson defines creativity as follows:

“…genius looks forward: the eyes of men are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead: man hopes, genius creates….There are creative manners, there are creative actions, there are creative words; manners, actions, words, that is, indicative of no custom or authority, but springing spontaneous from the mind’s own sense of good and fair.”

Basically, art comes from within!

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