A painting of a very bright and vibrant abstract city at night.

What Defines Art?

Have you ever seen a toilet in the middle of the street? Adding on to that, have you ever seen a toilet in the middle of the street and thought of it as art? Well some abstract and modern artists would. We see people making and creating crazy and sometimes quite confusing claims about what is and was is not art almost every day. We see it in the media, we see it at art galleries, and we see it in museums. But, many people claim that these new crazy manifestations of expression are in no way shape or form art.

For how could an eraser on a table be art?

But I’ve come to believe that art is not always as black and white as many make it out to be. In fact it is about the least objective thing that could exist. Art is really what you see it as.

While there are definitely rules in art (much like any craft), those rules can be bent and shaped however the artist sees fit. It might seem ridiculous to call a random piece of crumpled paper artwork, but many times, at least in my opinion, it still is. The way I see it, is that good artwork creates or instills a reaction in people. It makes people think about something they hadn’t previously thought of, or makes a statement. It is something that people talk about. It is something that people feel.

Going back to the idea of a random toilet in the street… In a way it does just that. While a nasty toilet in the middle of your hometown’s beloved main road might not instill powerful emotions in you (I can surely say it definitely won’t make me think of my last break up, or make me wonder what the secrets of the universe are), it will in fact still create a reaction. The mere fact that someone took the time to put the toilet there and claim it as artwork has made it art. People may not see it as the next greatest work of Leonardo Da Vinci, but, regardless of what some say, it has in fact done what good art is supposed to do. It has created and instilled an emotional or social response.

Many people see the hypothetical toilet in the street and find it silly, perhaps dumb. They may question why it’s there with great force, or simply walk by it and giggle to themselves. But, because the toilet is so out of place, and the artist who created it was bold enough to call it art, it has become art. It has instilled a reaction in almost everyone who walked by it. It has become a statement on the nature of art itself.

This leads to the idea that art is, well, what art is. Who’s to say that anything that is called art is not art? And who’s to say that everyone is not an artist at some point. The line between what is and what isn’t art is so blurred, because, I honestly don’t really think there is a line at all. Art is art, and that is what is so complex and exciting about it. That is why it has stood the test of time. It is an expression of society, an expression of cultural values, a political statement, or a look inside someone’s very mind. It is a completely unique experience for every individual, and it is something that I don’t think can be defined by just a simple dictionary definition.

A painting of a very bright and vibrant abstract city at night.
Abstract City, by Sam Perin.

I used to be one of those who would go to the art museum and look on, awestruck at the meticulously beautiful paintings, perfectly sculpted statues, amazingly intricate pottery. I’d wonder how ancient masters had expertly used color and form to create paintings and works that have stood the test of time. But then, I would arrive in the modern art section, and the party would completely stop. I’d see some of the work, like a single orange string hanging from a wall, and I’d have to ask myself, “Why?”. I couldn’t come to accept why any of that stuff was held in the same museum as the likes of Michelangelo and Georgia O’Keeffe.

But then, one day it came to me. It came to me after I had witnessed one of the strangest displays I’d ever seen. It was a tv set, with a man’s head popping out of it. There was weird music playing, and the man would suddenly get crushed by a chair. At first, I responded in the same way I’d always had to “artwork” like that, I’d passed it off as something silly. Someone trying to be edgy. Someone trying too hard perhaps. However, as I was walking away from the display, it hit me. The piece had made my friends and I comment on it. It had made us ask “What the hell is this?”, it had made some laugh, and it had frustrated others, and that, that is why I now believe it was art. That is why it was in that museum. It had created a reaction in all of us — it did what it was supposed to do.

While that, and many other seemingly non-art artworks are shunned by many, and not necessarily “artwork” in a traditional sense, I now believe them to truly be art. While they may not create a reaction in every person, the fact that they have at least created some sort of emotional response to at least the artist him or herself, is enough to say that the piece is art.

We might not always understand art. In fact, we may shun some types of it, passing it off as the fruitless attempts of people trying too hard to create something different. But who are we to say something is not art, when we ourselves don’t really know what art even is?

Thank you so much for reading this post! I really appreciate it. Have a great day!

Share your thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.