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Jeff Koons' "White Terrier": Whatever you can get away with

Art is a creative endeavor that can be cynically defined as, "Whatever you can get away with,"[note 1] or more objectively as the creation of works called "art" by their creators. A more formal definition would state that art requires intentionality on the part of the creator to make some form of statement or to move a person emotionally.[note 2]

An artist is a non-genetic mutation of Homo sapiens who tends to be either respected or despised by other members of the human species.

Various views of art[edit]

In the most general sense, art is whatever the "artist" says it is. Any attempt to define art often prompts a great debate. To some people, labeling something as "art" is a question of talent and skill — and the quality of the ultimate product produced. The problem with this definition is that it would include reproductions (i.e., forging) of a pre-existing piece of art. Of course, this is not a problem for some, who think that there is a real art to making quality reproductions.

But this view of "art as product" removes artist and message. The second group of people would insist that art cannot be evaluated or defined on skill and precision alone.[note 3] For this school of thought, it is the message, be it emotional or intellectual, that matters to art. For these people, the quantifiable skill of an artist (to draw with technical strokes, write in a grammatically correct structure, or sing beautifully) is not nearly as important as the artist's message. This view has historically been at odds with proponents of l'art pour l'artWikipedia (French for art for art's sake).

Science has even jumped into the fray a bit, providing definitions and explanations about "fine art" such as the study of how our eye is drawn to a piece, the golden ratios, and MRI studies of the mind when seeing a piece of art giving us insight into what art is, even if science, philosophy, or anyone else can't actually define it.

Religion, tradition, and society vs. art[edit]

Since artists or their agents often use art as a way to challenge the way people see and understand things, it frequently comes into conflict with people or institutions that do not want "understanding" challenged, often resulting in bans, censorship, or defunding of tax-funded arts programs on the grounds that they don't make money.[note 4]

Religion vs. art[edit]

Established religion has often hated art when it cannot control the message. Some famous conflicts include:

  • The Satanic Verses (1988), by Salman Rushdie. Rushdie fictionalized the so-called "missing verses" of the Qu'ran — verses which supposedly show Mohammad praying to pagan goddesses. The Islamic community went nuts, not just banning the book, but calling for Rushdie's head.
  • Cartoon depictions of Mohammed - In 2005, a Danish paper released an editorial cartoon depicting Mohammad. The Islamic world again went nuts, demanding removal of the images and an apology. Instead, many of the world's professional cartoonists put out their own image, supporting the right of political art to exist without censorship. In 2015, Islamic attackers killed 12 people (5 of them cartoonists) working for Charlie Hebdo for their depictions of Muhammad.
  • Anything by MapplethorpeWikipedia - Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989–) made his name by challenging the standards of what people saw as art. His most famous hissy-fit-inducing piece, perhaps, was a naked Jesus having all kinds of unmentionable things done to him. Of course, Mapplethorpe's themes are usually homoerotic, and often deal with sadism and masochism, so he generally ticks off the religious no matter what the particular subject.

Society vs. art[edit]

  • Degenerate art - back when ex-would-be-art-student Adolf Hitler's Nazis rose to power in Germany, control of the message was critical. All art that was of a "Jewish" nature or in any way challenged Germany's right to total power or seemed to engage the concepts of subjectivity, relativism, or abstraction was banned as degenerate art.
  • In the Soviet Union, controls were placed on the world of art. Throughout most of the Soviet period (1917-1991), the only officially acceptable style of art was "socialist realism", which despite its name was actually a romantic style, glorifying and idealizing the work of manual laborers. The restrictions were at their worst during the time of Joseph Stalin (1920s to 1953), but continued until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991; a notable incident was 1974's Bulldozer Exhibition,Wikipedia where the government destroyed with bulldozers an independent art exhibit set up in a field near Moscow.
  • Similarly, the Communist Party in China has held a tight grip on what can and cannot be created by artists. Any art (Chinese or otherwise) that carries an "improper" message is not only banned, it can land the native Chinese artist in serious trouble. Chinese artists have only been able to express themselves to any politically significant degree as more and more have fled their homeland in recent years.

Examples of Art[edit]

  • The Mona Lisa
  • The Bible (certainly much more so than an accurate source of history)
  • Duchamp's Fountain (debatably, started a lot of debates over the past 100 years)
  • "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" (clearly the best out of all of these)

See also[edit]


  1. Actually, someone made that one up on their own. Come up with a better definition and we'll use that.
  2. One example of "art vs. not art" arises out of the digital camera era. (When a person can take 1,000 pictures without real cost, at least one of them will be gorgeous. But the random snapping and "oh, that's divine," was not intended to be shot in such a way that would make the observer say "oh, this is emotional to me." It's just that it happened to be emotional. By most definitions, this is chance, not art.)
  3. This for example.
  4. Regarding the last one, don't complain when your building interiors then look like shit, yeah?