Part two in a  four part series by Wesley Hurd MFA, Ph.D; Wesley Hurd © 2012


What Is Art Anyway?


A most basic definition of art is this: inner human idea/belief/sensibility taking outer form. I think of art as the special human voice or language we call upon when communicating in ordinary ways seem to fall short of conveying our observations and inner reflections. Art is our humanness speaking in ways that convey or evoke how we see ourselves and our world.


An art work is a reflective, responsive “statement” manifesting focused observations about humankind and the world as seen through the eyes, experience, and existential world/life view of the art maker.


Let’s unpack this a bit:


Art is a reflective response. We have arrived in this earthly existence as knowers, interpreters and speakers. We come to know the world and ourselves in it as our intelligence confronts and interacts with the world and its inhabitants. We observe and “dialogue” with each other and the world, which is necessary both for survival and for discovering meaning in our lives. Art making emerges from this dialogue.


Art is made from and about focused observations of ourselves, others and the realities of our world. Many of our observations can be largely unreflective; often intuitive, rote, mundane, and utilitarian, they serve to get us through the everydayness of our days. Art, however, comes from a second kind of human observing. When everydayness leaves us longing for a unique and abiding meaning and significance, we find ourselves searching for it through the bric-a-brac, beauty and tragedy of the world in which we are immersed. Our intense, focused observation yields the creative reflection manifest in art.


Self Portrait as Fountain, Bruce Nauman, 1966


Art, then, is a formed “statement” created from focused observations and inner reflection. What I am calling “statements” can take various forms: language/words (poetry); pictures and images; objects (sculpture); sounds (music); body movements (dance). Art can take any form an artist thinks can effectively communicate his or her intention.


Artful “statements” emerge from individuals, one-of-a-kind persons. Individual art makers translate their subjective interpretations and visions of life from their inarticulate, inner world into humanly recognizable forms. This translation process requires effort to crystallize and control the deep introspection the art maker fabricates into art. George Steiner argues, “We lack the right word for the extreme energizing and governance of instinct, for the ordered enlistment of intuition, used by the artist” (Real Presences, p. 12; University of Chicago Press, 1991).


Through time art forms change according to the intellectual and spiritual zeitgeist in which they are created. Western art, since the Renaissance, has been centered on finding new ways, forms and languages from which to make high art. Changing ideas and orientations toward the world have produced new forms in art. The content and form of art has changed, but the humanness generating that art remains.


Next: Art and It Powers Part 3 – The Languages of Art