Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities; this article focuses primarily on the visual arts, which includes the creation of images or objects in fields including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other visual media. Architecture is often included as one of the visual arts; however, like the decorative arts, it involves the creation of objects where the practical considerations of use are essential-in a way that they are usually not for a painting, for example. Music, theatre, film, dance, and other performing arts, as well as literature, and other media such as interactive media are included in a broader definition of art or the arts. Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not differentiated from crafts or sciences, but in modern usage the fine arts, where aesthetic considerations are paramount, are distinguished from acquired skills in general, and the decorative or applied arts.
Art has been characterized in terms of mimesis, expression, communication of emotion, or other values. During the Romantic period, art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science". Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed and has changed over time, general descriptions mention an idea of human agency and creation through imaginative or technical skill.
By a broad definition of art, artistic works have existed for almost as long as humankind: from early pre-historic art to contemporary art; however, some theories restrict the concept to modern Western societies. The first and broadest sense of art is the one that has remained closest to the older Latin meaning, which roughly translates to "skill" or "craft." A few examples where this meaning proves very broad include artifact, artificial, artifice, medical arts, and military arts. However, there are many other colloquial uses of the word, all with some relation to its etymology.
In medieval philosophy, John Chrysostom held that "the name of art should be applied to those only which contribute towards and produce necessaries and mainstays of life." Thomas Aquinas, when treating the adornment of women, gives an ethical justification as to why: "In the case of an art directed to the production of goods which men cannot use without sin, it follows that the workmen sin in making such things, as directly affording others an occasion of sin; for instance, if a man were to make idols or anything pertaining to idolatrous worship. But in the case of an art the products of which may be employed by man either for a good or for an evil use, such as swords, arrows, and the like, the practice of such an art is not sinful. These alone should be called arts." Aquinas held that art is nothing else than "the right reason about certain works to be made," and that it is commendable, not for the will with which a craftman does a work, "but for the quality of the work. Art, therefore, properly speaking, is an operative habit." Aristotle and Aquinas distinguish it from the related habit of prudence.
The second and more recent sense of the word art is as an abbreviation for creative art or fine art and emerged in the early 17th century. 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.
The word art can refer to several things: a study of creative skill, a process of using the creative skill, a product of the creative skill, or the audience's experience with the creative skill. The creative arts (art as discipline) are a collection of disciplines that produce artworks (art as objects) that are compelled by a personal drive (art as activity) and convey a message, mood, or symbolism for the viewer to interpret (art as experience). Art is something that stimulates an individual's thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas through the senses. Artworks can be explicitly made for this purpose or interpreted on the basis of images or objects. Although the application of scientific knowledge to derive a new scientific theory involves skill and results in the "creation" of something new, this represents science only and is not categorized as art.
Often, if the skill is being used in a common or practical way, people will consider it a craft instead of art. Likewise, if the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way, it may be considered commercial art instead of fine art. On the other hand, crafts and design are sometimes considered applied art. Some art followers have argued that the difference between fine art and applied art has more to do with value judgments made about the art than any clear definitional difference. However, even fine art often has goals beyond pure creativity and self-expression. The purpose of works of art may be to communicate ideas, such as in politically, spiritually, or philosophically motivated art; to create a sense of beauty (see aesthetics); to explore the nature of perception; for pleasure; or to generate strong emotions. The purpose may also be seemingly nonexistent.
The nature of art has been described by philosopher Richard Wollheim as "one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture". Art has been defined as a vehicle for the expression or communication of emotions and ideas, a means for exploring and appreciating formal elements for their own sake, and as mimesis or representation. Art as mimesis has deep roots in the philosophy of Aristotle. Goethe defined art as an other resp. a second nature, according to his ideal of a style founded on the basic fundaments of insight and on the innermost character of things. Leo Tolstoy identified art as a use of indirect means to communicate from one person to another. Benedetto Croce and R.G. Collingwood advanced the idealist view that art expresses emotions, and that the work of art therefore essentially exists in the mind of the creator. The theory of art as form has its roots in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and was developed in the early twentieth century by Roger Fry and Clive Bell. More recently, thinkers influenced by Martin Heidegger have interpreted art as the means by which a community develops for itself a medium for self-expression and interpretation. George Dickie has offered an institutional theory of art that defines a work of art as any artifact upon which a qualified person or persons acting on behalf of the social institution commonly referred to as "the art world" has conferred "the status of candidate for appreciation". Larry Shiner has described fine art as "not an essence or a fate but something we have made. Art as we have generally understood it is a European invention barely two hundred years old.”
Sculptures, cave paintings, rock paintings and petroglyphs from the Upper Paleolithic dating to roughly 40,000 years ago have been found, but the precise meaning of such art is often disputed because so little is known about the cultures that produced them. The oldest art objects in the world-a series of tiny, drilled snail shells about 75,000 years old-were discovered in a South African cave. Containers that may have been used to hold paints have been found dating as far back as 100,000 years.
Many great traditions in art have a foundation in the art of one of the great ancient civilizations: Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, China, Ancient Greece, Rome, as well as Inca, Maya, and Olmec. Each of these centers of early civilization developed a unique and characteristic style in its art. Because of the size and duration of these civilizations, more of their art works have survived and more of their influence has been transmitted to other cultures and later times. Some also have provided the first records of how artists worked. For example, this period of Greek art saw a veneration of the human physical form and the development of equivalent skills to show musculature, poise, beauty, and anatomically correct proportions.
In Byzantine and Medieval art of the Western Middle Ages, much art focused on the expression of Biblical and religious truths, and used styles that showed the higher glory of a heavenly world, such as the use of gold in the background of paintings, or glass in mosaics or windows, which also presented figures in idealized, patterned (flat) forms. Nevertheless a classical realist tradition persisted in small Byzantine works, and realism steadily grew in the art of Catholic Europe.
Renaissance art had a greatly increased emphasis on the realistic depiction of the material world, and the place of humans in it, reflected in the corporeality of the human body, and development of a systematic method of graphical perspective to depict recession in a three-dimensional picture space.
In the east, Islamic art's rejection of iconography led to emphasis on geometric patterns, calligraphy, and architecture. Further east, religion dominated artistic styles and forms too. India and Tibet saw emphasis on painted sculptures and dance, while religious painting borrowed many conventions from sculpture and tended to bright contrasting colors with emphasis on outlines. China saw the flourishing of many art forms: jade carving, bronzework, pottery (including the stunning terracotta army of Emperor Qin), poetry, calligraphy, music, painting, drama, fiction, etc. Chinese styles vary greatly from era to era and each one is traditionally named after the ruling dynasty. So, for example, Tang Dynasty paintings are monochromatic and sparse, emphasizing idealized landscapes, but Ming Dynasty paintings are busy and colorful, and focus on telling stories via setting and composition. Japan names its styles after imperial dynasties too, and also saw much interplay between the styles of calligraphy and painting. Woodblock printing became important in Japan after the 17th century.
The western Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century saw artistic depictions of physical and rational certainties of the clockwork universe, as well as politically revolutionary visions of a post-monarchist world, such as Blake's portrayal of Newton as a divine geometer, or David's propagandistic paintings. This led to Romantic rejections of this in favor of pictures of the emotional side and individuality of humans, exemplified in the novels of Goethe. The late 19th century then saw a host of artistic movements, such as academic art, Symbolism, impressionism and fauvism among others.
The history of twentieth century art is a narrative of endless possibilities and the search for new standards, each being torn down in succession by the next. Thus the parameters of Impressionism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, etc. cannot be maintained very much beyond the time of their invention. Increasing global interaction during this time saw an equivalent influence of other cultures into Western art, such as Pablo Picasso being influenced by African sculpture. Japanese woodblock prints (which had themselves been influenced by Western Renaissance draftsmanship) had an immense influence on Impressionism and subsequent development. Later, African sculptures were taken up by Picasso and to some extent by Matisse. Similarly, the west has had huge impacts on Eastern art in the 19th and 20th centuries, with originally western ideas like Communism and Post-Modernism exerting a powerful influence on artistic styles.
Modernism, the idealistic search for truth, gave way in the latter half of the 20th century to a realization of its unattainability. Theodor W. Adorno said in 1970, "It is now taken for granted that nothing which concerns art can be taken for granted any more: neither art itself, nor art in relationship to the whole, nor even the right of art to exist." Relativism was accepted as an unavoidable truth, which led to the period of contemporary art and postmodern criticism, where cultures of the world and of history are seen as changing forms, which can be appreciated and drawn from only with irony. Furthermore the separation of cultures is increasingly blurred and some argue it is now more appropriate to think in terms of a global culture, rather than regional cultures.
The creative arts are often divided into more specific categories, each related to its technique, or medium, such as decorative arts, plastic arts, performing arts, or literature. Unlike scientific fields, art is one of the few subjects that are academically organized according to technique [dead link]. An artistic medium is the substance or material the artistic work is made from, and may also refer to the technique used. For example, paint is a medium used in painting, and paper is a medium used in drawing.
An art form is the specific shape, or quality an artistic expression takes. The media used often influence the form. For example, the form of a sculpture must exist in space in three dimensions, and respond to gravity. The constraints and limitations of a particular medium are thus called its formal qualities. To give another example, the formal qualities of painting are the canvas texture, color, and brush texture. The formal qualities of video games are non-linearity, interactivity and virtual presence. The form of a particular work of art is determined by the formal qualities of the media, and is not related to the intentions of the artist or the reactions of the audience in any way whatsoever as these properties are related to content rather than form.
A genre is a set of conventions and styles within a particular medium. For instance, well recognized genres in film are western, horror and romantic comedy. Genres in music include death metal and trip hop. Genres in painting include still life and pastoral landscape. A particular work of art may bend or combine genres but each genre has a recognizable group of conventions, clichés and tropes. (One note: the word genre has a second older meaning within painting; genre painting was a phrase used in the 17th to 19th centuries to refer specifically to paintings of scenes of everyday life and is still used in this way.)
The style of an artwork, artist, or movement is the distinctive method and form followed by the respective art. Any loose brushy, dripped or poured abstract painting is called expressionistic. Often a style is linked with a particular historical period, set of ideas, and particular artistic movement. So Jackson Pollock is called an Abstract Expressionist.
A particular style may have specific cultural meanings. For example, Roy Lichtenstein-a painter associated with the American Pop art movement of the 1960s-was not a pointillist, despite his use of dots. Lichtenstein used evenly spaced Ben-Day dots (the type used to reproduce color in comic strips) as a style to question the "high" art of painting with the "low" art of comics, thus commenting on class distinctions in culture. Pointillism, a technique in late Impressionism (1880s) developed especially by the artist Georges Seurat, employs dots to create variation in color and depth in an attempt to approximate the way people really see color. Both artists use dots, but the particular style and technique relate to the artistic movement adopted by each artist.
These are all ways of beginning to define a work of art, to narrow it down. "Imagine you are an art critic whose mission is to compare the meanings you find in a wide range of individual artworks. How would you proceed with your task? One way to begin is to examine the materials each artist selected in making an object, image video, or event. The decision to cast a sculpture in bronze, for instance, inevitably effects its meaning; the work becomes something different from how it might be if it had been cast in gold or plastic or chocolate, even if everything else about the artwork remains the same. Next, you might examine how the materials in each artwork have become an arrangement of shapes, colors, textures, and lines. These, in turn, are organized into various patterns and compositional structures. In your interpretation, you would comment on how salient features of the form contribute to the overall meaning of the finished artwork. [But in the end] the meaning of most artworks... is not exhausted by a discussion of materials, techniques, and form. Most interpretations also include a discussion of the ideas and feelings the artwork engenders."
Art can connote a sense of trained ability or mastery of a medium. Art can also simply refer to the developed and efficient use of a language to convey meaning with immediacy and or depth. Art is an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations. There is an understanding that is reached with the material as a result of handling it, which facilitates one's thought processes. A common view is that the epithet "art", particular in its elevated sense, requires a certain level of creative expertise by the artist, whether this be a demonstration of technical ability, an originality in stylistic approach, or a combination of these two. Traditionally skill of execution was viewed as a quality inseparable from art and thus necessary for its success; for Leonardo da Vinci, art, neither more nor less than his other endeavors, was a manifestation of skill. Rembrandt's work, now praised for its ephemeral virtues, was most admired by his contemporaries for its virtuosity. At the turn of the 20th century, the adroit performances of John Singer Sargent were alternately admired and viewed with skepticism for their manual fluency, yet at nearly the same time the artist who would become the era's most recognized and peripatetic iconoclast, Pablo Picasso, was completing a traditional academic training at which he excelled.
A common contemporary criticism of some modern art occurs along the lines of objecting to the apparent lack of skill or ability required in the production of the artistic object. In conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" is among the first examples of pieces wherein the artist used found objects ("ready-made") and exercised no traditionally recognised set of skills. Tracey Emin's My Bed, or Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living follow this example and also manipulate the mass media. Emin slept (and engaged in other activities) in her bed before placing the result in a gallery as work of art. Hirst came up with the conceptual design for the artwork but has left most of the eventual creation of many works to employed artisans. Hirst's celebrity is founded entirely on his ability to produce shocking concepts. The actual production in many conceptual and contemporary works of art is a matter of assembly of found objects. However there are many modernist and contemporary artists who continue to excel in the skills of drawing and painting and in creating hands-on works of art.
Somewhat in relation to the above, the word art is also used to apply judgments of value, as in such expressions as "that meal was a work of art" (the cook is an artist), or "the art of deception", (the highly attained level of skill of the deceiver is praised). It is this use of the word as a measure of high quality and high value that gives the term its flavor of subjectivity.
Making judgments of value requires a basis for criticism. At the simplest level, a way to determine whether the impact of the object on the senses meets the criteria to be considered art is whether it is perceived to be attractive or repulsive. Though perception is always colored by experience, and is necessarily subjective, it is commonly understood that what is not somehow aesthetically satisfying cannot be art. However, "good" art is not always or even regularly aesthetically appealing to a majority of viewers. In other words, an artist's prime motivation need not be the pursuit of the aesthetic. Also, art often depicts terrible images made for social, moral, or thought-provoking reasons. For example, Francisco Goya's painting depicting the Spanish shootings of 3rd of May 1808 is a graphic depiction of a firing squad executing several pleading civilians. Yet at the same time, the horrific imagery demonstrates Goya's keen artistic ability in composition and execution and produces fitting social and political outrage. Thus, the debate continues as to what mode of aesthetic satisfaction, if any, is required to define 'art'.
The assumption of new values or the rebellion against accepted notions of what is aesthetically superior need not occur concurrently with a complete abandonment of the pursuit of what is aesthetically appealing. Indeed, the reverse is often true, that the revision of what is popularly conceived of as being aesthetically appealing allows for a re-invigoration of aesthetic sensibility, and a new appreciation for the standards of art itself. Countless schools have proposed their own ways to define quality, yet they all seem to agree in at least one point: once their aesthetic choices are accepted, the value of the work of art is determined by its capacity to transcend the limits of its chosen medium to strike some universal chord by the rarity of the skill of the artist or in its accurate reflection in what is termed the zeitgeist.
Art is often intended to appeal to and connect with human emotion. It can arouse aesthetic or moral feelings, and can be understood as a way of communicating these feelings. Artists express something so that their audience is aroused to some extent, but they do not have to do so consciously. Art may be considered an exploration of the human condition; that is, what it is to be human.
Art has had a great number of different functions throughout its history, making its purpose difficult to abstract or quantify to any single concept. This does not imply that the purpose of Art is "vague", but that it has had many unique, different reasons for being created. Some of these functions of Art are provided in the following outline. The different purposes of art may be grouped according to those that are non-motivated, and those that are motivated (Levi-Strauss).
The non-motivated purposes of art are those that are integral to being human, transcend the individual, or do not fulfill a specific external purpose. In this sense, Art, as creativity, is something humans must do by their very nature (i.e., no other species creates art), and is therefore beyond utility.
"Imitation, then, is one instinct of our nature. Next, there is the instinct for 'harmony' and rhythm, meters being manifestly sections of rhythm. Persons, therefore, starting with this natural gift developed by degrees their special aptitudes, till their rude improvisations gave birth to Poetry." -Aristotle
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." -Albert Einstein
"Jupiter's eagle [as an example of art] is not, like logical (aesthetic) attributes of an object, the concept of the sublimity and majesty of creation, but rather something else – something that gives the imagination an incentive to spread its flight over a whole host of kindred representations that provoke more thought than admits of expression in a concept determined by words. They furnish an aesthetic idea, which serves the above rational idea as a substitute for logical presentation, but with the proper function, however, of animating the mind by opening out for it a prospect into a field of kindred representations stretching beyond its ken." -Immanuel Kant
"Most scholars who deal with rock paintings or objects recovered from prehistoric contexts that cannot be explained in utilitarian terms and are thus categorized as decorative, ritual or symbolic, are aware of the trap posed by the term 'art'." -Silva Tomaskova
Motivated purposes of art refer to intentional, conscious actions on the part of the artists or creator. These may be to bring about political change, to comment on an aspect of society, to convey a specific emotion or mood, to address personal psychology, to illustrate another discipline, to (with commercial arts) to sell a product, or simply as a form of communication.
"[Art is a set of] artefacts or images with symbolic meanings as a means of communication." -Steve Mithen
"By contrast, the realistic attitude, inspired by positivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Anatole France, clearly seems to me to be hostile to any intellectual or moral advancement. I loathe it, for it is made up of mediocrity, hate, and dull conceit. It is this attitude which today gives birth to these ridiculous books, these insulting plays. It constantly feeds on and derives strength from the newspapers and stultifies both science and art by assiduously flattering the lowest of tastes; clarity bordering on stupidity, a dog's life." -André Breton (Surrealism)
The functions of art described above are not mutually exclusive, as many of them may overlap. For example, art for the purpose of entertainment may also seek to sell a product, i.e. the movie or video game.
Since ancient times, much of the finest art has represented a deliberate display of wealth or power, often achieved by using massive scale and expensive materials. Much art has been commissioned by rulers or religious establishments, with more modest versions only available to the most wealthy in society. Nevertheless, there have been many periods where art of very high quality was available, in terms of ownership, across large parts of society, above all in cheap media such as pottery, which persists in the ground, and perishable media such as textiles and wood. In many different cultures, the ceramics of indigenous peoples of the Americas are found in such a wide range of graves that they were clearly not restricted to a social elite, though other forms of art may have been. Reproductive methods such as moulds made mass-production easier, and were used to bring high-quality Ancient Roman pottery and Greek Tanagra figurines to a very wide market. Cylinder seals were both artistic and practical, and very widely used by what can be loosely called the middle class in the Ancient Near East. Once coins were widely used these also became an artform that reached the widest range of society. Another important innovation came in the 15th century in Europe, when printmaking began with small woodcuts, mostly religious, that were often very small and hand-coloured, and affordable even by peasants who glued them to the walls of their homes. Printed books were initially very expensive, but fell steadily in price until by the 19th century even the poorest could afford some with printed illustrations. Popular prints of many different sorts have decorated homes and other places for centuries.
Public buildings and monuments, secular and religious, by their nature normally address the whole of society, and visitors as viewers, and display to the general public has long been an important factor in their design. Egyptian temples are typical in that the most largest and most lavish decoration was placed on the parts that could be seen by the general public, rather than the areas seen only by the priests. Many areas of royal palaces, castles and the houses of the social elite were often generally accessible, and large parts of the art collections of such people could often be seen, either by anybody, or by those able to pay a small price, or those wearing the correct clothes, regardless of who they were, as at the Palace of Versailles, where the appropriate extra accessories (silver shoe buckles and a sword) could be hired from shops outside.
Special arrangements were made to allow the public to see many royal or private collections placed in galleries, as with the Orleans Collection mostly housed in a wing of the Palais Royal in Paris, which could be visited for most of the 18th century. In Italy the art tourism of the Grand Tour became a major industry from the Renaissance onwards, and governments and cities made efforts to make their key works accessible. The British Royal Collection remains distinct, but large donations such as the Old Royal Library were made from it to the British Museum, established in 1753. The Uffizi in Florence opened entirely as a gallery in 1765, though this function had been gradually taking the building over from the original civil servants' offices for a long time before. The building now occupied by the Prado in Madrid was built before the French Revolution for the public display of parts of the royal art collection, and similar royal galleries open to the public existed in Vienna, Munich and other capitals. The opening of the Musée du Louvre during the French Revolution (in 1793) as a public museum for much of the former French royal collection certainly marked an important stage in the development of public access to art, transferring ownership to a republican state, but was a continuation of trends already well established.
Most modern public museums and art education programs for children in schools can be traced back to this impulse to have art available to everyone. Museums in the United States tend to be gifts from the very rich to the masses (The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for example, was created by John Taylor Johnston, a railroad executive whose personal art collection seeded the museum.) But despite all this, at least one of the important functions of art in the 21st century remains as a marker of wealth and social status.
There have been attempts by artists to create art that can not be bought by the wealthy as a status object. One of the prime original motivators of much of the art of the late 1960s and 1970s was to create art that could not be bought and sold. It is "necessary to present something more than mere objects" said the major post war German artist Joseph Beuys. This time period saw the rise of such things as performance art, video art, and conceptual art. The idea was that if the artwork was a performance that would leave nothing behind, or was simply an idea, it could not be bought and sold. "Democratic precepts revolving around the idea that a work of art is a commodity impelled the aesthetic innovation which germinated in the mid-1960s and was reaped throughout the 1970s. Artists broadly identified under the heading of Conceptual art... substituting performance and publishing activities for engagement with both the material and materialistic concerns of painted or sculptural form... [have] endeavored to undermine the art object qua object."
In the decades since, these ideas have been somewhat lost as the art market has learned to sell limited edition DVDs of video works, invitations to exclusive performance art pieces, and the objects left over from conceptual pieces. Many of these performances create works that are only understood by the elite who have been educated as to why an idea or video or piece of apparent garbage may be considered art. The marker of status becomes understanding the work instead of necessarily owning it, and the artwork remains an upper-class activity. "With the widespread use of DVD recording technology in the early 2000s, artists, and the gallery system that derives its profits from the sale of artworks, gained an important means of controlling the sale of video and computer artworks in limited editions to collectors."
Art has long been controversial, that is to say disliked by some viewers, for a wide variety of reasons, though most pre-modern controversies are dimly recorded, or completely lost to a modern view. Iconoclasm is the destruction of art that is disliked for a variety of reasons, including religious ones. Aniconism is a general dislike of either all figurative images, or often just religious ones, and has been a thread in many major religions. It has been a crucial factor in the history of Islamic art, where depictions of Muhammad remain especially controversial. Much art has been disliked purely because it depicted or otherwise stood for unpopular rulers, parties or other groups. Artistic conventions have often been conservative and taken very seriously by art critics, though often much less so by a wider public. The iconographic content of art could cause controversy, as with late medieval depictions of the new motif of the Swoon of the Virgin in scenes of the Crucifixion of Jesus. The Last Judgment by Michelangelo was controversial for various reasons, including breaches of decorum through nudity and the Apollo-like pose of Christ.
The content of much formal art through history was dictated by the patron or commissioner rather than just the artist, but with the advent of Romanticism, and econonomic changes in the production of art, the artists' vision became the usual determinant of the content of his art, increasing the incidence of controversies, though often reducing their significance. Strong incentives for perceived originality and publicity also encouraged artists to court controversy. Théodore Géricault's Raft of the Medusa (c. 1820), was in part a political commentary on a recent event. Édouard Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863), was considered scandalous not because of the nude woman, but because she is seated next to men fully dressed in the clothing of the time, rather than in robes of the antique world. John Singer Sargent's Madame Pierre Gautreau (Madam X) (1884), caused a controversy over the reddish pink used to color the woman's ear lobe, considered far too suggestive and supposedly ruining the high-society model's reputation.
The gradual abandonment of naturalism and the depiction of realistic representations of the visual appearance of subjects in the 19th and 20th centuries led to a rolling controversy lasting for over a century. In the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso's Guernica (1937) used arresting cubist techniques and stark monochromatic oils, to depict the harrowing consequences of a contemporary bombing of a small, ancient Basque town. Leon Golub's Interrogation III (1981), depicts a female nude, hooded detainee strapped to a chair, her legs open to reveal her sexual organs, surrounded by two tormentors dressed in everyday clothing. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ (1989) is a photograph of a crucifix, sacred to the Christian religion and representing Christ's sacrifice and final suffering, submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine. The resulting uproar led to comments in the United States Senate about public funding of the arts.
In the nineteenth century, artists were primarily concerned with ideas of truth and beauty. The aesthetic theorist John Ruskin, who championed what he saw as the naturalism of J. M. W. Turner, saw art's role as the communication by artifice of an essential truth that could only be found in nature.
The definition and evaluation of art has become especially problematic since the 20th century. Richard Wollheim distinguishes three approaches to assessing the aesthetic value of art: the Realist, whereby aesthetic quality is an absolute value independent of any human view; the Objectivist, whereby it is also an absolute value, but is dependent on general human experience; and the Relativist position, whereby it is not an absolute value, but depends on, and varies with, the human experience of different humans.
The arrival of Modernism in the late nineteenth century lead to a radical break in the conception of the function of art, and then again in the late twentieth century with the advent of postmodernism. Clement Greenberg's 1960 article "Modernist Painting" defines modern art as "the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself". Greenberg originally applied this idea to the Abstract Expressionist movement and used it as a way to understand and justify flat (non-illusionistic) abstract painting:
Realistic, naturalistic art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art; modernism used art to call attention to art. The limitations that constitute the medium of painting-the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of the pigment-were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors that could be acknowledged only implicitly or indirectly. Under Modernism these same limitations came to be regarded as positive factors, and were acknowledged openly.
After Greenberg, several important art theorists emerged, such as Michael Fried, T. J. Clark, Rosalind Krauss, Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock among others. Though only originally intended as a way of understanding a specific set of artists, Greenberg's definition of modern art is important to many of the ideas of art within the various art movements of the 20th century and early 21st century.
Pop artists like Andy Warhol became both noteworthy and influential through work including and possibly critiquing popular culture, as well as the art world. Artists of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s expanded this technique of self-criticism beyond high art to all cultural image-making, including fashion images, comics, billboards and pornography.
Duchamp once proposed that art is any activity of any kind- everything. However the way that only certain activities are classified today as art is a social construction. There is evidence that there may be an element of truth to this. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History is an art history book which examines the construction of the modern system of the arts i.e. Fine Art. Shiner finds evidence that the older system of the arts before our modern system (fine art) held art to be any skilled human activity i.e. Ancient Greek society did not possess the term art but techne. Techne can be understood neither as art or craft, the reason being that the distinctions of art and craft are historical products that came later on in human history. Techne included painting, sculpting and music but also; cooking, medicine, horsemanship, geometry, carpentry, prophecy and farming etc.
Disputes as to whether or not to classify something as a work of art are referred to as classificatory disputes about art.
Philosopher David Novitz has argued that disagreement about the definition of art are rarely the heart of the problem. Rather, "the passionate concerns and interests that humans vest in their social life" are "so much a part of all classificatory disputes about art" (Novitz, 1996). According to Novitz, classificatory disputes are more often disputes about societal values and where society is trying to go than they are about theory proper. For example, when the Daily Mail criticized Hirst's and Emin's work by arguing "For 1,000 years art has been one of our great civilising forces. Today, pickled sheep and soiled beds threaten to make barbarians of us all" they are not advancing a definition or theory about art, but questioning the value of Hirst's and Emin's work. In 1998, Arthur Danto, suggested a thought experiment showing that "the status of an artifact as work of art results from the ideas a culture applies to it, rather than its inherent physical or perceptible qualities. Cultural interpretation (an art theory of some kind) is therefore constitutive of an object's arthood."
Anti-art is a label for art that intentionally challenges the established parameters and values of art; it is term associated with Dadaism and attributed to Marcel Duchamp just before World War I, when he was making art from found objects. One of these, Fountain (1917), an ordinary urinal, has achieved considerable prominence and influence on art. Anti-art is a feature of work by Situationist International, the lo-fi Mail art movement, and the Young British Artists, though it is a form still rejected by the Stuckists, who describe themselves as anti-anti-art.
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