Art definitions, artistic roles, and visual thinking/Introduction and definitions

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Panorama of a section of A Thousand Li of Mountains and Rivers, by Wang Ximeng from the 12th-century Song Dynasty
How would you define "art"? For many people, art is a specific thing: a painting, sculpture, or photograph, a dance, a poem, or a play. It is all of these things, and more. These are mediums of artistic expression. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines art as "The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects."  

Yet, art is much more than a medium or words on a page. It is the expression of our experience. Joseph Brodsky hints at a definition of art in his poem "New Life": 

Ultimately, one's unbound
curiosity about these empty zones,
about these objectless vistas,
is what art seems to be all about.

—Joseph Brodsky

Art is uniquely human and tied directly to culture. It takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. As an expressive medium it allows us to experience sublime joy, deep sorrow, confusion and clarity. It tests our strengths, vulnerabilities, and resolve. It gives voice to ideas and feelings, connects us to the past, reflects the present and anticipates the future. Along these lines, art history, combined with anthropology and literature, are three main sources in observing, recording and interpreting our human past. Visual art is a rich and complex subject whose definition is in flux as the culture around it changes. Because of this, how we define art is in essence a question of agreement. In this respect, we can look again to the dictionary’s definition for an understanding of exactly what to look for when we proclaim something as being "art."

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Experience with Art

In your journal, answer these questions:

  • What has been your exposure to visual art?
  • Do you make art?
  • If you haven't made any art, have you wanted to, and why?
  • In what other ways do you engage with art?