That pesky little word "art"

Is it possible to be scared of a word? Yes, yes it is.
Even if that word isn't Voldemort.

First I was scared of the word writer.
But I kinda realized I only have to write to be a writer. Not well, just write.

Then I was scared of the word creative.
I thought I needed some kind of stamp, a test result saying my brain made the cut. But there's no official test of who's creative and who's not. It doesn't exist, because we're all creative to some degree, or we wouldn't be human.

Now I'm scared of the word art.

Silly? Maybe. Common? Yup.
I'm not alone in hesitating to call what I make art. To wonder if I'm really an artist. Question if I'm good enough to be making art.

But what does art really mean?

Let's dig into the definition for a moment, and ask Wikipedia.

Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

So if we break that down, the definition of art contains four parts.

  • It's a human activity - not the result of a human activity.
  • It's creating artwork - visual, auditory, performing.
  • It's an expression of the creator's imaginative or technical skill.
  • It's intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

In other words, art does not have to be technically advanced or beautiful, if it's imaginative and have emotional power. And it doesn't have to be imaginative if it's an expression of a technical skill. 

I went further into the Wikipedia maze and found this definition:

The arts are a physical manifestation of the internal creative impulse. 

I love that definition because it points to the creative urge that makes us put pen to paper, dip our brushes and express the voices in our heads. To me, that's what creating really is about.

Reading on, the arts are sorted into visual arts, literary arts, performing art (music, theater, dance), and multidisciplinary work such as movies and (debated) video games. 

So basically, art is creating something pretty or emotional, using imagination or skill, in the different fields of creativity.

Doesn't sound so scary after all, does it?

Then why do we fear the word?

Seems like the answer lies in the history of art.

For the longest of time, art was trying to imitate the physical world as closely as possible, mainly in paintings and sculptures. Technique and skill was then absolutely crucial. The closer you came to reality, the better the art. Then came cameras and ruined the party.

Art was very expensive, both paintings and books, and owning art was a symbol of status and wealth. Consuming and criticizing art was a game for the rich. It nurtured a small group of experts, a closed community.

Art of all kinds were distributed by gatekeepers. Record companies, publishers and galleries decided what was good enough to be presented to the world. If they didn't like it, too bad for you.

Finally, art is also a word used to describe what's good. It was a work of art and the art of cooking both refers to something skilled and advanced. It gives us the impression that to be called art, it needs a certain level of quality.

But artists are rule-breakers. The concept of art has expanded.

Modern art broke up with the idea that art should be realistic.
Music has gone from Beethoven to Bob Dylan to Beyoncé. 
Authors are self-publishing more than ever.

What we define as art has changed. Post-modernism came and made the argument that there's no true art, it's just what we as a culture decide to call art. Since art and the making of it was made accessible to the public, it has diversified into groups and subgroups and subsubgroups, allowing differences in every way we can think of.

There's elitists who will tell you what's real art and not, what's quality and not, who think the current concept of art is pointless because it's stripped of value. Those who think art shouldn't be understandable for the uneducated, who think that once it's appreciated by the masses, it's no longer art. There will always be prestigious art schools and prizes for those considered especially talented.

But the snobs can't stop you from making art.

Who's an artist then?

The Oxford English Dictionary says

A learned person or Master of Arts.

Wikipedia disagrees and says

A person who creates art.

So, if you express your imagination or skill in something beautiful or emotionally powerful, then you are an artist. At least according to Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is usually right.

There's no authority that decides who's an artist and who's not, just people with opinions. The rebels stole the word from the elite and if we use Wikipedia's definition, we stand with the rebels. We defend an open world of art.

Creativity needs freedom, not limits and rules. Art has over the years pushed the limit of what defines it, ever evolving and growing. We do best in not focusing too much on the definitions, but instead creating whatever we want to make.

My fear for the word "art" woke when I decided that I want to open an art shop on my website. If I am to call it an art shop, then I'm obviously calling what's inside it art. At first it freaked me out and I immediately raised the demands on myself, until I decided that that's not the kind of artist I want to be. I want to follow my imagination and curiosity, let my emotions speak, and whatever comes out comes out. That's the kind of art I want to make.

So I'm an artist then, if we're talking labels. I prefer the broader and more flexible term creative, but I'm not scared of calling what I make art anymore.

Because I think that word belongs to us - the rebellious, imperfect creatives.