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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote a thought-provoking book with exactly the same title as your question: What Is Art? The entire text of the book is accessible on the internet, since the work is old enough to be in the public domain. In the first chapters Tolstoy summarizes everything previously written about the definition of art that he considers important. Then in chapter five he offers his own definition of art as follows in full:

     To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling--this is the activity of art.

     Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.

I offer you this answer to your question as the best definition of art that I have ever encountered.

Many people have disagreed with Tolstoy's definition of art as the transmission of feelings and with many of the other things he has to say in his book. He has frequently been ridiculed and misinterpreted and misquoted. But he has some very important thoughts on the subject, regardless of whether or not he is entirely correct.

One of the most interesting parts of Tolstoy's book is the section in which he discusses what he calls "counterfeit art." He charges that professionalism in art led to insincerity and commerialism. He identifies four methods of producing counterfeit art: borrowing, imitating, striking (creating effects), and interesting. We can see these methods clearly in much of our contemporary "art," especially in our popular music and movies. In fact, many movies utilize all four of these methods of producing an effect on the audience which is not artistic but creates some kind of an impression on people which they may mistake for a transmission of real feelings. One means of "interesting" an audience in a movie is to shoot the film in a new location, so that many movies are something like dramas and travelogues combined. As far as creating effects, we are all too familiar with the explosions, car chases, shootouts, and scenes in which cars or motorcycles crash out of high-rise parking structures and fly through the air. The movies are so full of such effects that any time we see an actor get in a car and turn the ignition switch, we half-expect to see the car explode and burst into flames.

Tolstoy thought that the most important element in art was sincerity. He would be unlikely to think very much of what is presented as art in our time.

amysor | Student

Art is a form of expression. It can vary in many different ways. It is shown in literature, dancing, painting, playing a instrument, etc. These are all forms you can show your feelings, or tell a story. Although, this is a very vague definition, it depends on each person. 



1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful,appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures,or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.  See fine artcommercial art.
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art.

This is the definition gives, although, some artists may specify more on their interpretation of art. Also, here on, we have a subject labeled arts that will give you more insight on what is art, and examples of art.

Grace02213 | Student

It is something created from imagination 

arrellbelle | Student

As an artist, I believe that art is a method for people to visual display their thoughts, ideas, and emotions. It is a creative process and sometimes viewed to be a therapeutic process as well. Art is shaped by what has essentially shaped you. In other words, whatever has influenced your thoughts, behaviors, and actions will be transmitted onto whatever method of art you utilize. 

zumba96 | Student

Art can be created from imagination, but can also be a giant part of a culture or something that defines you. There can be many types of arts such as; watercolor, oil, carving, pottery, etc. Art can make a huge impact on the world and can be remembered forever. 

Wiggin42 | Student

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power

Art is all that and more. I found an ngram fitting for this and added it in the links. I think its interesting to see the declining trend. 

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