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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For the purpose of answering the question "what is art," one could easily resort to any number of art histories and criticisms, and one would soon find oneself mired in intellectually-obtuse definitions that leave the reader or student more confused than ever.  There is no one definitive definition because there is no agreement on what constitutes "art." To illustrate my point, I quote below the discussion of art definitions found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"Traditional definitions, at least as commonly portrayed in contemporary discussions of the definition of art, take artworks to be characterized by a single type of property.  The standard candidates are representational properties, expressive properties, and formal properties.  So there are representational or mimetic definitions..."

I cut it off because the reader will get the point. Just suffice to say that Plato's definition of "beauty" remains the best or most useful definition of something that is entirely subjective: "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder."  The word "art" conjures up images of paintings and sculptures, but one can easily view a painting and conclude that "it is not art." Another person will view the same painting and find it "an incredible work of art."  The late art historian Ernst Gombrich opens his "The Story of Art" by stating, "There is really no such thing as Art.  There are only artists."  Gombrich's study of art went through 16 editions before he died in 2001.  His book remains popular precisely because it cuts through the pretense that "art" is something to which we can only aspire and that allows for easy categorization.  It is what it is.

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