What is art?


Dear Artist,

This morning, Sharon Cory of Winnipeg, Manitoba, wrote, “A woman came into my gallery today, looked around for a bit and asked, ‘What is art?’ It was so direct I was stumped. I rambled on for a bit, talking about my favourite artists, art movements, styles, etc, but it sounded vague even to my ears. She had almost no information. I realize there’s a lot of art being produced right now. How much of it will in the long run be seen as art and who decides it is and is the question even relevant?”

Thanks, Sharon. This is one of those questions like “What is life?” and “Which one is God?” To add to the difficulty, I’m one of those goofers who thinks art is in just about everything. The bewildered lady needs some non-verbal help.

While a few of us are into performance art, art happenings and entertainment art, most of the folks who read my letters are into “product art.” That is, they make objects for their own satisfaction or for others to take home and treasure. Satisfying human tendencies like hand-working, collecting and decorating, such art often requires specific skills and some nobility of thought.

While a large part of the population doesn’t know anything about art and doesn’t care, mild conversions can occur in those who are gently pressed to focus. As far as our own production and exhibition choices are concerned, all we can do is try to grow and stay true to our vision.

That being said, there’s a common attitude among product artists that nothing much is to be gained by stuff that doesn’t get sold. This is unfortunate because the instinct for imaginative play figures highly in the joy of art-making as well as the opinion-building process. I suggest you call the lady back and in an offhand way show her a short video of Bob Gregson. It gives the subtle lesson that art can be interactive, young and old can participate, and everyone has something to gain.

The lady might be further confused when she sees that video, but she will see people enjoying art who are less uptight than she is. She might begin to see with her eyes rather than with the expectations of her ears. She just might start to think for herself. She may even look around your gallery and find some answers.

Best regards,


PS: “Art is more interesting when you look at it.” (Ruth Franklin)

Esoterica: Subscriber Kristina Zallinger sent me Bob Gregson’s video. She wrote, “Bob was a year behind me at Hartford Art School where we met and have known each other from that time. He definitely has a unique approach. Sculpture? Construction? Interaction? Conceptual? I am always taken by his attention to detail and his craftsmanship. Bob’s sense of humor enters in to his pieces, making them seriously amusing. The video was made by Bob’s nephew.”



Wrong question
by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada


“Just Another Painter”
oil painting, 12.5 x 10 inches
by Bill Hibberd

You are asking the wrong question. What is art? It’s simple. Intentionality. Making snow angels is not art. Making marks in the snow to communicate is art. Elephants do not make art, only humans do. The right question: What is great art? The answers to that one would fill up a few letters.





There are 4 comments for Wrong question by Bill Hibberd

From: Bobbo Goldberg — Nov 12, 2009

Aha! So your statement is that animals are incapable of intentionality? By what magic do you come by this information? As someone who has lived around animals all my life, I can tell you clearly that animals have intention, use strategies of communication, and are subject to all the unlikable states of humankind, including arrogance. Please take a moment to visit http://www.koko.org/world/art_portraits.html#APPLE and have a look at a portrait painted by a gorilla. Or try http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/default.php to see some rather nice florals done by elephants. I’d submit that non-human animals are capable of a lot more than some of us give them credit for, including self-expression and the desire to communicate their vision.

From: Faith — Nov 13, 2009

I just have to respond briefly to the comment by B. Boldberg. Though many animals of course have the ability to think and act out strategies, including “artful” ones, there is a subtle difference between say an elephant or a chimp and a human. If you need proof of that, just ask a chimp to give one of your paintings a title! The 99 percent DNA identifiation between the human and the human ape stops there. Animals do not have command over human intellectual faculties. But that does not mean they cannot have “made art”, of that is whan a human decides it is. Since it is a solely human attribute to put labels on things, that, of course, includes the definition of what is, or is not art, and what name a painting, an installation etc. is to be known by. A similar phenomeon can be observed in music. On youtube there are dozens of videos showing cats playing (at) the piano. But better not ask them to play a Mozart sonata.

From: Ron Elstad — Nov 13, 2009

Bill, your work is definitely FINE in my point of view. I took a look a your web site and found your work to be full of charature and soul. I like you work very much.

From: Anonymous — Nov 13, 2009

Of course if you skew the parameters to judge something in well-established human terms, you’ll have the answer you want. My point is that “animals are people, too,” in their own way and according to their own terms. A silly anthropomorphic video of a cat banging on piano keys is irrelevant. Humans have been well served by seeing non-human animals as less than. Is it only art when rendered by a creature (us and a parrot) who can give it the name of art, verbally? Intellect is our particular gift, though many other animals show some form of it. Animals can play. They can be altruistic, even self-sacrificing. What we call “instinct” may in fact be much more. Anyone can believe whatever they want; given sufficient verbal skill, they can define the terms of the argument such that it falls to their side. The more one knows of animals (without a vested interest in preserving man’s “dominion”), the more one realizes it’s an empty debate. Oh, and though I may appear over”bold” sometimes, it’s Goldberg. :)


Whistler’s answer
by Roland Ford, Baltimore MD, USA


original painting
by Roland Ford

I remember reading a story about James Whistler traveling the countryside of England by way of their train system when a man settled himself in the seat across from him. Whistler had been doing some impromptu sketches in his journal which piqued the man’s attention.

“Are you an artist?” he asked Whistler.

“Why, yes I am.” he replied.

The gentleman thought for a moment and continued with the age old question. “I’m not a well educated man in the arts. Could you explain to me what ought I to consider to be art and what ought I not to consider art?”

Whistler continued his sketching and pondered what this man was asking him. At last he realized that he was being asked to take a lifetime of study, work and practice and put it down in a short paragraph. Knowing this could not possibly be done Mr. Whistler simply told the man, “Why Sir, there is no ought about it. Either you like it or you don’t.”


An artist’s observation
by Shawn Vinson, Decatur, GA, USA


“Polka-Dot Skirt”
original painting
by Ruth Franklin

I’ve heard that question a few times during my ten-year tenure as a gallery owner and it’s been discussed at our local Brick Store Pub more than once. Naturally the answers are as infinite as art is.

The good part of Sharon Cory’s letter was that someone who doesn’t know anything about art cared enough to ask — kudos to Sharon for providing the inspiration! Mr. Genn is right about the large part of the population not knowing or caring about art, and Ruth Franklin‘s quote, “Art is more interesting if you look at it,” is a response to that very fact.

I was there when Ruth said it and I subsequently submitted it to The Painter’s Keys Resource of Art Quotations. I even printed it on a sign for our gallery, which is where Ruth was visiting one relatively busy Saturday afternoon. During a lull, she commented on how amazing it was that most people just come into the gallery, walk around, and don’t ‘look’ at anything. She was right. To eighty percent of people (optimistically speaking), the gallery was just another five minutes of entertainment between the restaurants, shops and ice cream parlor.

Ruth went to art school in England and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing was required reading during her foundation courses. I’d never heard of it — prior to taking a job delivering artwork when I was twenty, I was part of the ‘unknowing’ majority’ — although I must have subconsciously cared, having loved photography for as long as I can remember. I’ve now been involved in the art business for half my life, and whether ‘I’m preaching to the converted’ or turning someone new on to art, Ruth’s simple statement never ceases to resonate. It really IS more interesting if you look at it.

(RG note) Thanks, Shawn. Every day we receive submissions to our Resource of Art Quotations. Many quotes are from people who need to be heard. Ruth’s was a good example. Thanks for sending it along.


Never explain
by Lynne Perrella, Ancram, NY, USA


“A sampler of summer”
mixed media by Lynne Perrella

I suppose this topic is “the hamburger too big to bite” – a great phrase, stolen from an author friend of mine.  But, I’ll bite anyhow. Words of wisdom from attorneys, especially high-powered celebrity attorneys, rarely get my attention. But one day I was watching a news program, and an attorney uttered these memorable words: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” I instantly knew he was right. I give creativity workshops, and I often mention the above quote to my students/colleagues. They often get asked to “explain” their art, and naturally they are overwhelmed by the enormity of having to describe a lifelong mania and enduring passion in just a couple of easily-understood words. So, I pass along the attorney’s words; AND I also ask them to just let their friends and family see them in a state of complete happiness and fulfillment as they pursue their art.

There are 3 comments for Never explain by Lynne Perrella

From: Faith — Nov 13, 2009

Lovely painting, Lynne, and your comment provides the big mac question with a fair hearing, since trying to explain the inexplicable is a losing game – though quite what that has to do with an attorney’s necessity to justify any evidence or argument in a case is not quite clear to me! What is more, the making of art is not always a purely pleasurable activity to be shared with all and sundry. I should think a fair amount of cursing and swearing, frustration, destruction and despair go into it, and I’m not just speaking for myself.

From: Colleen — Nov 13, 2009

Good advice for lawyers, artists, and many others. Thanks.

From: Bob — Nov 13, 2009

The concept of ‘ creativity ‘ workshops is outstanding. If one can learn to be creative, then one has a chance of being considered an artist. The ultimate challenge is to be creative.


Attempt at a definition
by Ken Paul, Eugene, OR, USA

As a retired arts educator I can look back on many discussions over the years regarding what art is, what it does, who it’s for, and so on.

From design students: “Art is making order out of chaos.” Then somebody said, “Art is making chaos out of order.” We had seminars about this when I was an art student. Nobody could ever pin down a definition that would satisfy everyone. Then I came across a quote from philosopher (Benedetto Croce): “Art is what everyone knows it is.” He did not enlarge on this observation. It seems ambiguously poised between the individual and the collective… every single one versus “everyone,” or both at once. I took it both as a kind of koan (i.e., something the logical mind can never solve), but also simultaneously as a significant truism referring to how we make our own realities and live seemingly in parallel worlds which sometimes seem to interpenetrate or overlap, or else drift apart for awhile. Art might be described as one of the metaphysical forces which drive this ongoing dance, never to be “understood” with finality.

There are 3 comments for Attempt at a definition by Ken Paul

From: Bob — Nov 13, 2009

Art is that which is created by an artist. The real challenge is to define what an artist is. Not every one who paints or draws or dances or writes is an artist. But some are. What they create is art.

From: S.A.L. — Nov 14, 2009

Art is the expression, through a medium and technique, of the artist’s feelings and/or thinking regarding a topic or vision of his or her interest.

From: anonymous — Nov 24, 2009

I like “Art is a negentropic (negative entropy) activity that relies on feedback to provide a catalyst for change” It sounds fussy, but i like it. Art changes you and moves you from where you are to somewhere else. Everyone’s response is different.


Another attempt at a definition
by Mike Young, Oakville, ON, Canada


“Finally Art Defined”
original painting
by Mike Young

As an Engineering Student at Imperial College in London, England, in the early 1960’s I pursued my childhood and adolescent interest in “Art” by creating an Art Club. The club members joined up, informally, with some art students from the Royal College of Art, which was literally across the road. These budding artists were as interested in what was going on in the sciences and engineering as we were in the visual arts. We met in a pub once a month and set a discussion topic for each meeting. One topic was “What is art?” The discussion was energetic and inconclusive, but left me with a 30 year struggle to resolve the definition.

“Finally Art Defined” produced in 1994, was my resolution. The stripped down definition reads, “When an artifact or a performance created through conscious selection, organization and presentation of materials, products and living things induces a thinking, emotional or spiritual response in an audience, then a state of ART exists.” Artists simply produce artifacts or performances. “Art” is intangible. It is the dialogue, or engagement, of the audience that produces a State of Art in the audience. My definition flies directly into total conflict with common usage of the loosey-goosey word, “Art.” But you can’t win ’em all.

There are 3 comments for Another attempt at a definition by Mike Young

From: Cristina Monier — Nov 13, 2009

The best definition yet.

From: Kim Mazzilli — Nov 13, 2009

I think this is a wonderful definition as well, but leads me to wonder. Are there not times when a preformance or an artifact are created without conscious selection, just pure on-the-fly action, and can create a state of art for both the viewer and the artist? I think perhaps it works both ways.

From: John — Nov 13, 2009

Here’s one I read a few years ago. I mention it here because it’s a shorter version of your definition: Something made or done for aesthetic purposes.


Anything, anywhere
by Julie Trail


by Julie Trail

Art can be anything anywhere. Notice the sand mosaic of a mermaid, made on a beach in Nerja, Spain, out of the variety of colorful pebbles and broken bits of shells found in the sand by my son, who is normally a very left-brained businessman, but who found an art form waiting to be expressed that one afternoon on the Mediterranean! A moment after the photos were taken, a wave reclaimed that inspiration of organized beauty from the random beauty that always surrounds us. It takes an artist to show us the beauty that is always there.

There is 1 comment for Anything, anywhere by Julie Trail

From: Carol — Nov 12, 2009

[quote=”Julie”] It takes an artist to show us the beauty that is always there.[/quote]
Love your expression!


The art of bull riding
by Douglas Haga


Doug Haga and Michael Gibbons on the Art Walk Float in the Summer Festival Parade, 2005

Mr. Genn, you missed the opportunity to remark upon Art at its highest calling, the Art of… Almost any task may be raised to the level of Art if the person/people have combined knowledge, talent and inspiration. Thus we may have the art of cooking, bull-riding, sculpture, logging, fishing, composition, etc., etc. Too often people assume Art is the province of a small elite group of craftsmen/women whose product has somehow gained enormous attention and value. As a practicing painter for 35 years, I have witnessed many scenarios in which I could only remark, “Now, that person is a true artist.”



Time and patience
by Peter Massing, Huntington, WV, USA

Art and life are synonymous and allows each person to make a spiritual connection with their immediate environment. Sometimes the creative process requires rearranging the furniture in order to see what we have from a different point of view. We learn from visualizing the world as we know it from a wide range of vantage points so that a better understanding and appreciation can be understood or respected. We all bring our own experiences when looking at works of art. It requires time and patience to acquire meaning.


The emergence of ‘modern’ art
by Djordje Prudnikov, Belgrade, Serbia


original painting
by Djordje Prudnikov

Modern art has originated as a reaction to the appearance of photography and it is a creation of the artist who had removed the man, the figure off canvas. This may be compared to the situation one finds after earthquake when everything is in ruins. This is the modern art. The greater monstrosity or chaos on canvas the more exalted modern critics are. The figure has disappeared at one point of time from canvas, while later on photography itself has been established as artistic work. And following the earthquake the situation is getting stable!


There are 7 comments for The emergence of ‘modern’ art by Djordje Prudnikov

From: tom black, arizona — Nov 12, 2009

first of all, your painting ‘Mother’ is just great! the edges are as good as they get..what training you must have had.

second, i love your definition of ‘modern’ art. i agree..richard schmid says modern art reminds him of a child throwing a temper tantrum!

great work Djordje. thanks for sharing..


From: Jim van Geet — Nov 12, 2009

What a wonderful example of skillful, well-trained and feeling portraiture Djordje, and an excellent answer to modern art.

From: Cristina Monier — Nov 13, 2009

I would recommend reading “Dokumente zum Versttändis der modernen Malerei” (Documents for the understanding of modern Art) by Walter Hess

From: Anonymous — Nov 13, 2009

Yes, the painting is lovely. Too bad you have such a narrow perspective of what constitutes art.

From: Darla — Nov 13, 2009
From: Mishcka — Nov 13, 2009

At first I thought your painting was a photograph! While that might denote technical skill it doesn’t show a lot of creativity. Your narrow concept of “What is Art?” is clear in your approach to it.

From: Anonymous — Nov 14, 2009

Ignore the commentary on your definition of art and your fine portrait. It is a wonderfully sensitive painting, and I’m envious. Too often artists have an identity problem as to their individual role and artistic viewpoint. You don’t. We all should have such well defined ability and sense of purpose.


Just look around
by Nicholas Rosal, NJ, USA

This is a question that can never be answered fully. As you say, and I concur, “Art is just about everything” which in turn creates a wide definition. But, I also believe that art needs to be self-defined by the artist and observer. I also feel that if there ever is a definition to be agreed on, it would need to be a pliable one as it is in the artist’s nature to push the boundaries of the definition of art. The definition will always evolve. I highly recommend The Art Question by Nigel Warburton. It’s a short read, but informative, debatable and genuinely interesting for those looking for a definition.

The best bet, though, is for your readers and, in particular, the woman in the gallery to just look around themselves. Our instincts of what we like will define art for us and if it is relevant. Hopefully, as the art definition becomes clearer to the self, the observer will be willing to challenge him/herself to redefine it as they expand their art experience.


Art’s a poem
by Rahula Dragon Tiger Garuda

nabakov says art is beauty + pity,
or so i heard awhile ago is the case.
me, j r de wood jr, say art is nabakov
thinking about beauty + pity, in view.
similar to aristotle contemplating a
bust of homer by rembrandt, in mind.
love sending arrows to psyche in ovid,
when seeing the imagerys, loded in thot.
or psyche as a tale told by aupelius when refered to by neumann in mythos, via rap.
or yamantaka, the deity of conquerer of
death: painted by mediter for guru yoga.





Afternoon sun

oil painting, 12 x 16 inches
by John Stuart Pryce


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Helen Musser of Terrell, TX, USA, who wrote, “Art is the illusion presented by the artist and has intrinsic value as the artist is able to draw us into his or her focus of a truth. We as artists are here to define the world’s problems and not to dismiss any part of that by clinging to political truisms.”

And also Ian Randell of Lethbridge, AB, Canada, who wrote, “I have two quotes on the walls of my studio which might be helpful — or not: ‘Art is what you can get away with.’ (Marshall McLuhan) and ‘Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.’ (Anonymous)”

And also Jerry Conrad who wrote, “How’s about Suzanne Langer’s astute observation: ‘Art is a reflection of the tenor of a given time or society.’ ”

And also Elizabeth Nees of Long Beach, CA, USA, who quoted her teacher: “ART is what artists do.”

And also Michael Epp of Canada, who quoted Kurt Vonnegut: “q: How do you tell a good abstract expressionist painting from a bad one? His answer: ‘look at a thousand abstract expressionist paintings.’ ”

And also Popo Flanigan who wrote, “Art is an investment that pays off every time you look at it.”

And also Gerry Moore of Canada, who wrote, “Good art is an interpretation of a subject (real or imagined) by an artist using any medium that sells. When artwork sells, it means that the artist’s work has raised such an emotional response in the buyer that he or she is willing to purchase it.”

And also Jens Heyduck of Tofino, BC, Canada, who wrote, “What is Art? For most: Art becomes Art the moment you realize it as Art. For many: Art should be self-explanatory (Der Blaue Reiter) For Some: Art is mastery. For me: If it doesn’t shake me, it’s something else but Art.”

And also Jack Edwards who wrote, “John Cage says, ‘Art is what I say it is!’ ”



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for What is art?



From: Elizabeth Concannon — Nov 09, 2009

Art IS everything!! Oh, yes it is — and the sad part is that so many never find their way to see it. “Their” way — that is not an accidental expression — but the observation that whatever the art IS can be viewed through the eyes, minds, hearts, souls (your choice) of all viewers, observers, touchers, that is a huge and wonderful thing to say. It reminds me of art which has touched me in a very specific way AND of art which is still mysterious to me but makes me think about it often. ART IS EVERYTHING!

From: Ron Unruh — Nov 09, 2009

A happy question to engage – At one time my definition would have been restrictive but I have been educated by life. I myself portray scenes and figures pretty much as they are. I use watercolour, acrylic and oil.I have always regarded what I do as art. My daughter Cari is an acclaimed scrapbooker whose designs require great creativity and colour sense. That is art. My wife Christine has designed and sewn extravagantly lovely Christmas gift aprons that sell in an exclusive store. This is art. This past Sunday I hung ten paintings in an arts cafe and removed the previous artist’s display consisting of unrecognizable marks and swirls. One framed piece was an entirely white 24 X24 in canvas which was entitled, ‘Everything or Nothing.’ I had to admit that this was art as well. Of course it is. The artist understood it, the cafe gallery owner appreciated it and so did the cafe patrons. Perhaps the title of the painting is the answer to question. What is art? It is everything or nothing.

From: Sharon — Nov 10, 2009

This is SO COOL -it works on so many different levels. I have always been a gallery visitor who wants to TOUCH the art, and Bob has invited it -unheard of! I loved to watch the people interact with the art -the adults differently than the kids, but both were engaged. To me that is what exhibiting art is all about, to get others to engage with your vision. Way to go Bob!

From: Chris Strong — Nov 10, 2009

Hey there, I’m still not sure about art, but I can answer one of the questions. Only one Entity wrote a book in which He foretold over five hundred future events that came true in every particular. That’s the True God, and there aren’t any others who come close.

From: Chris Strong — Nov 10, 2009

That’s the God of the Jews and the Christians, by the way.

From: Nicholas Rosal — Nov 10, 2009
From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Nov 10, 2009

Over the years I have given my younger students (all second graders) an index card and asked them what art was…here are a few of their answers (in their own words:)

“Art is talent or maybe not but it is all good.”

“Art is making stuff that you didn’t even know you would like.”

“Art is hard to do and it takes some time, but what else would you be doing?”

“Art is like you look at it and take off to another world.”

“Art is for people that like looking at things even if they don’t know what it is.”

“Art is fun and sad and everything.”

I keep these cards (and I have hundreds!) to inspire and remind me of the answer to the question…”What is Art?!”

From: Jeanne Rhea — Nov 10, 2009

I made a blog post about a painting and what it means to me. You may be interested in reading about it.


From: thelmasmith — Nov 10, 2009

Art is passion and knowing and questioning made apparent.

From: Sep Wedzik — Nov 10, 2009

I don’t suppose there will every be an adequate definition of art. It’s very likely that all we will be able to do is point to instances of things that aspire to art, or achieve that status, for whatever reason we decide to use for that instance, and then try to describe the constellation of those things asserted to be art. I doubt very much that it can be very prescriptive, however. I accept that my working definition is, in the end, ambiguous. I believe that art is any craft or process (realized by intent) that exceeds it’s nominal result, and additionally communicates at some level higher than the materials or the plastic details of the process. (Good luck with that.) In any case, everything that I’ve ever seen that I would call art seems to fall in that category, but the category itself is almost like saying, art is when you make something better than good. Definitions of art are almost always a bit moronic, I think. And talking to artists about it rarely helps. I’ve listened to discussions with a wide range of people about their art, and I suggest, if possible, you listen to old recordings of Thelonius Monk talking about music. By almost all definitions, his music often acheives the status of art. Yet his comments (on anything, really) were often incomprehensible, often mumbled. The reason I mention this is not so much to use Monk as an example of someone who could not verbally communicate well, but to say that highly educated, very glib artists (and, I would argue, critics) almost never do better.

From: Hilary W. — Nov 10, 2009

I’ve just been rewatching the PBS series ART:21 on the internet. The producers have seemed to gravitate toward artists who have no trouble speaking in front of a camera, and do so for 10-12 minutes each and the audience is shown the art, in the making and in display. It’s often quite banal, the descriptions of what iconography they’re looking for, and how they take it up. Also, it’s quite mundane how they cobble it together, and what they say about that act or process. Admittedly, I’m handicapped by not having a natural affinity for installation art, which seems to be a major focus of the program. Nonetheless, there is little or nothing in the language that helps to even describe the art, but only the craft. Having watched most of the episodes I can say that having given all these contemporary artists the ability to communicate, there is nothing at all– that I can see– that comes together as a definitive statement of the nature of art. I’ve read Rosenberg and Hilton Kramer, and I’ve read Ortega y Gasset and Danto. It’s not in there anywhere.

From: Dan Cooper — Nov 10, 2009

Art is anything humans create. That is why the “arts” category encompasses activities like painting, sculpture, acting, dance, writing, music, etc. That is why I’ve learned to refer to myself as a “visual artist”. Being around actors and other artists taught that just calling myself an artist was painting with a pretty broad brush.

From: Jeanne Rhea — Nov 10, 2009

Reading the comments about how artists speak about their art reminds me of a quote that I like.

I think that an artist cannot speak about his art anymore than a plant can discuss horticulture.

Jean Cocteau

From: Chris Everest — Nov 11, 2009

A R T is

something that catches your eye : something that holds your eye : something that makes you feel something : It can be in any media, format, culture, time, space or framework : It supports and provokes : it colludes and contains : The making of A R T can lift the soul or lower it, the imagining of A R T can restore belief or buttress the suspension of disbelief. It is confidante and concubine, go-between and go-getter, leader and follower. It is mirror and magic, mother and father, more and less. A R T is both answer and question – answering the questions and questioning the answers. It is the sound of the colours, and the scent of the space. It needs looking for and looking after. It requires participation rather than detachment. It advises poetry above prose. It sings instead of talking. It is more important than life or death. It is being in the zone. It is all about BEING human.

From: Norman Ridenour — Nov 11, 2009

I am in the midst of designing an art history course for international business students most of them not within the western tradition, i.e. Kazaks, Uzbeks, etc. It may be the most exciting project of my life. (Excluding taking a destroyer into gun combat.)

Those of you who read Robert’s site, I am waiting. I already have a dozen letters set aside to use.



From: Pesach Ben Levi — Nov 11, 2009

When I am drawing, I go into ‘the zone,’ and always come out the other side with a feeling of immense joy and intellectually stimulated. This happens whether the art is good or bad; I may have to throw it away, but I won’t have ‘lost’ the artist’s creative high.

If afterwards, I sell the results of my work, that’s the bonus! And every time I do, I feel great that ‘the market’ has vindicated my artistic ability. I create art for greeting cards for adoptive parents, if they don’t like my art, it doesn’t sell. Period.

From: Peter Brown — Nov 11, 2009

It is incumbent upon artists at every level of competence to have a concise and precise answer to the question, “What is art?” Until artists generally agree on such a definition, we are bound to be marginalized, and to be taken less than seriously.

The best definition that I have come across, is simply, “Art is the universal human language.” To elaborate: Art is a language because it communicates ideas and emotions. It is universal because it communicates across the boundaries of time and place. It is human because art is a cultural artifact, and it is shared in common with all human cultures for at least 35,000 years.

The grandeur and inclusiveness of this definition is awe-inspiring. It clearly distinguishes product from intent. In doing so, it unifies all of the arts under a huge and ancient umbrella. It also shifts the onus of the very question, “What is art?” onto the person who asks the question. No person, ignorant of the French language, expects to understand a French speaker. At the same time, that puzzled person does not immediately ask, “What is French?”

No, sir. It should not be the artist’s task to explain what he or she is doing, but it is polite, to suggest to the person that asks such a question, that there is a clear answer; “Art is a universal human language.” One can go from there, but all artists should know specifically what they are doing.

From: john mix — Nov 11, 2009

I like Robert Rauschenberg’s answer: “If I find out, I’ll quit.” Or the plumber after finishing some work in the bar where paintings were on display: “This shit really moves me!” Personally I know I am in the presence of art when I either cry, laugh, am saddened, or am struck with awe and wonder. I just returned from 2 weeks in Italy among the “Greats” and it happened often. Words fail in trying to describe a dance to someone.

From: Diane — Nov 11, 2009

Just before I read your letter, I had read the article in the NY Times November 10, about art: There are three photographs of a skull on a parched earth from the 1930s dust bowl…..You are asked to say what it is: art, propaganda, or photojournalism…..The answer is: all three, at any one time. Art, the article says, is in the eye of the beholder, and at different times, it can be one or the other… even to the same person. … Interesting stuff.


From: Lucy Bates — Nov 11, 2009

When I was taking painting classes our teacher suggested that we were all artists. I disagreed because I felt that to be an artist one would achieve a certain level of excellence. I paint in watercolor and thoroughly enjoy the process and after 19 years of painting am now thinking that I am becoming an artists. The video showing Bob Gregson’s work was totally awesome. Now that’s art. He is a genius!!!

From: Joan Xauen — Nov 11, 2009

Your letter today brought a smile to my face. Like many visual artists, I also have had to deal with this question.

My answer was, that it is a form of communication and certainly the most ancient. It stems back to the caveman drawings and has evolved with each culture. The more interesting question is, what is “abstract” art?

From: Judith Kennedy. — Nov 11, 2009

I have always loved the story of Georgia O’Keeffe being introduced to speak at a function – she was introduced as “the artist, Georgia O’Keefe”. She responded “I am a painter – posterity will determine if I am an artist”.

From: Peter Moore — Nov 11, 2009

I enjoyed Bob Gregson’s video , normally one is not allowed to touch art here you are encouraged to be involved. The delight in the people as they moved his art around creating their own shapes, perhaps giving many idea’s to go and create art of their own. I do not usually appreciate this type of art, however the fact that people were encouraged to touch and feel even change shapes is that not an art in itself? On occasion i do soapstone carving and people cannot help but touch and feel the stone. I allow this although I watch out for rings and watch straps. Being able to touch brings delight and opens up conversation. What is Art will i am sure be different in peoples eye sure as people are different.

From: Cheryl — Nov 11, 2009

I recently explained the origin of a painting’s subject matter, and the one aspect I liked most about the painting (of an apple with a twisted stem) to a questioning viewer who was expounding on the philosophy of art. The piece was called “Adam’s Apple – the Source of It All” and the twisted stem represented the twisted-ness of human nature. I thought the piece funny, but also explained it came from an ongoing dialogue I had with God.

He looked at the piece (he had opinions of each and every piece – none exactly positive), looked me in the eye and replied “it’s just paint.” I chose not to argue his statement.

I have an odd sales requirement – I sell to those who tell me a very good story about why they want a piece of art, or I sell some pieces I especially love for a very high price before I let it go from me (usually when I need the cash). My most delightful times are bringing the work back into my studio – hanging them on the wall and dancing around with delight that they are home again with me. After a period of living with my own work I let them go from me – when we are both ready to part – strange perhaps, but it works best for me.

All I know is that art is work, it is enjoyment, it can be a sharing of some sort – interactive, and more than likely, personal. A footprint of the maker, and then of the viewer.

From: Sandra Merwin — Nov 11, 2009

From the beginning of time humankind has had a need to be creative. Humans need to create meaning and beauty in their lives. Our ancestors who lived in caves painted some pretty wondrous works on the walls. For example, present day artists are often stunned by the technique and power of the paintings in the Chauvet Caves of France. Cave paintings that have been around for centuries still have the power to move us. More than likely, the cave men and women had some type of dance and music that they created as they sat around the fire at night.

So from the beginning we humans has been compelled for all kinds of reasons to use our skills and talents to create images and performances that speak to us in ways that move us, bring meaning into our lives and entertain us.

Perhaps, art is part of our genetic code. it is stored in all of us and is just waiting to find the way to be born.

From: Jeanne Long — Nov 11, 2009

The teacher Barry Long said art should elevate the consciousness, pointing to the nobility of man and the love of woman. Further, he taught that Real Art points to truth and beauty. An example of real art he gave was a painting of a man protecting an innocent child from the bullet of a nazi soldier. An example he held up to show what wasn’t art was a depiction of a woman gleefully tearing a fowl in half while ruthlessly laughing (an image on the cover of an album.) He also pointed out that abstract art, often filled with colorful expression, merely conveys usually negative emotion and likes and dislikes, which does not uplift consciousness, but usually lowers it, like having one’s neighbor visit to conversationally dump all of their troubles, hoping to lighten themselves, but instead increasing both their own and the listener’s feeling of burden by talking about their angst, instead of rising above it. If one can momentarily set one’s conditioning aside, one can truly feel one’s consciousness being uplifted while gazing at real art, and one can feel one’s emotions get bandied about and amplified by works that are filled with story-telling of personal egocentric states. One walks away from the first, feeling more elevated and free, and from the latter, more tied to the world and its woes.

From: Paol Serret — Nov 11, 2009

Art is art is art is art is Paol

From: Haim Mizrahi — Nov 11, 2009

Art is the question what is art.

From: bullelk,,aka daniel norris — Nov 11, 2009

To the question what is art,,,,,best i can tell IT cannot be articulated, IT can be any style, medium, IT can be mixed medium, folk opera rock blues etc sound or vision or touch,,,you know IT when you see IT,,when you hear IT,,,,,IT just is and can be different for different people,,,therefore the absurdity of art competitions,,ribbons,,etc……had a well meaning judge try to tell me” what are we supposed to just let anything in the show?” even if the perspective is incorrect etc. etc…..I said,, i suppose you would have rejected van goghs yellow bedroom scene based on that criteria,,,,,,,2 ribbons work for me,,,peoples choice or the green ribbons with dead American presidents on them…..ps…love ya even if we disagree on this.

From: Kristina Zallinger — Nov 11, 2009

You are what you art.

From: Rick Rotante — Nov 11, 2009

Art to me is a process of creativity, an act of self expression. It’s speaking without words. It’s a communication not only with oneself, but with the outside, be it limited to a few or encompassed by the world. Art is an individual expression of a point of view on our world and how we experience it. Artists use their particular medium to connect with the self first and hopefully others who share a like mind. It’s an identification of what is beautiful, strange, wondrous, controversial or unique. It’s a way to lock forever a moment in time that will be forever changing.

For someone to ask “What is Art” tells me they have little art within them. To ask “What is Life” similarly shows one leads a lackluster existence. They walk thru life with blinders on their eyes. Artists use Art to discover the wonders of life and the world around them and within them.

From: Eric — Nov 11, 2009

Art is merely an individual or collaborative interpretation of the world. Virtually any expression can be justified as “art”. The question is unanswerable and yet will always need to be asked.

From: damian — Nov 11, 2009

Art has to match the drapes, not say to much about the subconscious and appeal to women. Unless of course its corporate then it is maths and indifference. There are of course exceptions.

From: Russ Hogger — Nov 11, 2009

Art is what ever you want it to be.

From: art — Nov 12, 2009

Klimt said perfectly:

Art is a line around your think.

From: sarah — Nov 13, 2009
From: Rainy Burns — Nov 13, 2009

This discussion reminds me of the definition of work by Gibran. “”Work is love made visable.” And Also “When we work we are like a flute, through whose heart, the whispering of the hours turns to music”

From: Frank Miles — Nov 13, 2009

A professional artist friend had this to say about art. ” If, a thousand years from now a pieceo f work is discovered in the rubble and it can be easily recognized, it is truly, art”. That means to me, that much of modern art popularized today will be considered,just garbage.

From: Carol Kairis — Nov 13, 2009

I think of art as “Enrichment”. May Your Paintings Today…Enrich Your Joys of Tomarrow. carol Kairis

From: scharolette chappell — Nov 13, 2009

Art is life. My motto.The spirit cannot be seen, but the visual object is the proof of the spirit to me. It is what makes us live and move and have our being.

From: Carol Kairis — Nov 13, 2009

My Previous comment above should have read: I think of Art as Enrichmment. ~~May Your Cherished Paintings Today Enrich Your Joys of Tomarrow.~ carol kairis

We all cherish our Art since it comes from the depth of our souls. Yet our Enrichment returns in greatest measure by our embracing others in the creation and sharring of our Art. Joy does follow if we remain in truth to what is valuable. Value in Art as well as life proves itself.

From: john ferrie — Nov 13, 2009

Dear Robert.

AHHH, the age old question “What is art?” Scholars have been asking this question since the dawn of time.

The whole “art is life” is such a cheesy cliche that just doesn’t pass in this day and age.

I am not sure what the perfect answer is. As so much art seems so absurd these days. But I have discovered what is right for me.

I think art is something that makes you stop and think. It doesn’t have to be a warm fuzzy or a feeling of love that comes over you.

It just has to be a reaction and an experience that changes the viewer. I usually respond better to pieces that have some work to them.

That is that I get the artist has spent some time making their piece exquisite. That is where I really sit up and take notice.

When I am painting I always try and make sure I am communicating that this is my art. Being an artist has come to define me.

having people notice my work as Art is my life’s mission.

John Ferrie

From: Barbara Loyd — Nov 13, 2009

I taught art for nearly 20 years and often asked my students, first graders through adults, to say what art is. My favorite came from a 6th grader: “Art is frozen music.”

From: Jan Ross — Nov 13, 2009

Perhaps the greater question is: What is GOOD art? Considering the fundamentals academically trained artists are expected to learn, and these traditionally being the criteria for determining ‘good art’, there needs to be a separation between ‘acceptable’ and ‘incredible’ works of art. While it is true that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, there’s a reason Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt and other’s of their ilk have been recognized as remarkable ‘artists’ for so many years. Obviously, anything can be called ‘art’, my dishwasher, my kitchen chair OR my paintings. Hopefully, my paintings provide more pleasure and inspiration, as well as reflecting my world as I see it more than my mechanically constructed objects do!

From: Carol Ann McNeil — Nov 13, 2009

I had an ‘aha’ moment during a workshop with Mo Brooker, a wonderful abstract artist/teacher himself, who described his abstract art as ‘music in colour’. prior to this i had no appreciation for abstract art, but I do love both, music of all kinds, and colour, so with that comment i was hooked. since that day in 2004, i have been joyfully painting emotion in bright colourful abstracts.

From: Pat Roemer — Nov 13, 2009

No mas! No mas! Enough of “Art is [something insufficient or incomprehensible]!” Go paint something!

From: Faith12 — Nov 14, 2009

Oh dear, another “anonymous” willing to have a go but unwilling to show his/her colours. Cat lovers would be alarmed to think that the clever things their pets do are irrelevant. I think it is irrelevant to define animals as being superior to humans. After all, we are all animals of one kind or another. The point I was trying to make is that though animals other than humans can respond to stimuli they cannot go outside their own range of ability to the point of equaling or emulating the intellectual faculties of the human species or taking on their skills except in a very modest form (e.g. using primitive tools to get at food). I believe that all animals are entitled to respect and a good life, but without trying to turn them into something they are not – in this case artists in our human sense. Maybe “anonymous” would like to go to the quotes pages and click on “Art”. He won’t find any comments there (or anywhere else) other than those made by human beings.

From: Suzanne — Nov 14, 2009

Art is joy. End of.

From: Mrs. Antman — Nov 15, 2009

I ask my second grade students this every year. They think, discuss, share, and then do it again, with little input from me, and eventually come up with a class definition. This year they all had similar focus and to paraphrase from my 80 8-year olds: Art is thinking and deciding how something will look or feel and then making it.

From: Gregg Hangebrauck — Nov 15, 2009

Since Marcel Duchamp I have to go with Andy warhol’s defenition of art. “Art is what you can get away with.” I am of the opinion that there is no longer good taste associated with art. It does not aspire to elevate humanity. It is mostly a sideshow. A snake oil sideshow.I blame the guggenheim money for funding such art as ( the new york earth room ). What a farce. Art is the act of creation. Hopefully uplifting creation. Not a shallow ( easy ) way out. I am of the opinion that Picasso painted his best work before the communists ruined him. Pop art has gone down hill since then.

http://www.ghangebrauck.com/ ( see my art )

From: Terry Waldron — Nov 15, 2009

Some of my favorite artists live in Baffin Bay in Cape Dorset. One of those amazing artists said this: “There is a state of mind we call “angutiisiaq.” How can I describe this to you? There are certain people who are known by all others as special people because they do everything well. They make the best things. They are the best hunters because they know the behavior of the animals, weather, tides, and other things better than anyone else. It is not that they strive to be better than their neighbors. It is that they have a state of mind that does not allow them to do things in an ordinary way. They are compelled to do the simplest things as perfectly as can be done by a human being. Sometimes when you come across an ancient campsite, you may find a cooking pot or harpoon tip that is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. Yes, even an old cooking pot can be a special thing if made by a special person. The important thing to remember is that this state of mind doesn’t mean that you can do just one thing – it is a way of living.”

Osuitok Ipellie (Inuit) I guess, rather that decide what the definition is of “art”, I’d rather just be able to recognize it when I see something invested with that state of mind called “angutiisiaq”. Real art cannot be limited within words, especially the “right” words, I guess.

From: Bobbo Goldberg — Nov 19, 2009

Anonymous? Nope. Just too quick to hit the button. Sorry. I’m always pleased to sign my name. And nope again, never suggested that kitties are superior to humans, because we didn’t get into that. Certainly, my dog can run rings around you, but you’re probably a lot better at math. Just cuz I don’t exist doesn’t mean you can respond to what I didn’t say :) If your definitions of an artist NOW is someone who can write back to Robert in his columns or provide tendentious “quotes” on what art is, I’ll consider the point as irreconcilable. I differ immeasurably, and your position begs the question (Look that up if the term is unfamiliar). My point, which I think I stated clearly, was that humans are not the only animals capable of producing art, or of intentionality, which was the original poster’s definition. I celebrate your right to an opinion that differs from mine. Ignoring the links I offered that dispute your conclusions? Well, that’s just downright, umm, anonymous. (grin)

From: Margaret Rooker — Nov 20, 2009

I LOVE “At Every Turn” The works and the video! Wish I were there!

Great art engages us on many levels and includes the wonder and curiosity of the child, the respect for mastery of the adult and the wise discernment of the ancient.

From: Jim Larwill — Nov 23, 2009

Object of Desire Dilemma Cure

(It’s not brain surgery)

Controllers live in fear of loosing control.

Controllers tend to find Objects of Desire they can control.

Controllers recognize that in order not to loose their Object of Desire they must keep them happy.

However, often people don’t like to be controlled, even if they are glad to be an Object of Desire.

On going external control does not validate one’s own subjectivity and makes a person unhappy.

Controllers will enable all forms of self-medication to off-set loss of subjectivity in their Object of Desire.

When a subject begins to feel unhappy and to leave the Objective of Desire relationship in search of Shared Love, Controllers become frantic with their need to make their Object of Desire happy, not for sake of the Subject’s need for validation, but out of the Controllers own need for Control.

The Controller recognizes that in order not to loose their Object of Desire they must keep them happy, but are unable to validate external subjectivity because that diminishes their own control. Idealization of the Object of Desire now begins and continues to increase in an attempt to satisfy the external subject’s need for personal validation by providing false forms for them.

Controllers must be in charge of their Object.

More and more is done for the Object of Desire and a dangerous cycle begins.

As the Controllers do more and more for the Object of Desire they are afraid of loosing control of, they end up being the one being Controlled by the situation, they sense being out of control and then try to make up for it by over controlling everything that they are franticly doing to make their Object of Desire happy, all this done so they won’t leave; but, in the end this has the opposite effect because everything now done in the name of making the Object of Desire happy validates them less and less since they sense they also have no say in any of it and this alienates them from their own subjectivity despite endless idolization and the claims that everything is being done for them.

When an Object of Desire refuses such endless gifts, punishment for being so ungrateful will commence.

When idolization doesn’t work vilification begins.

The cure for this dilemma is for both parties to stand on a mirror for ten hours taking “Space” looking up there own ass describing what they see. This will re-calibrate the object/subject confusion within there own brains down to a reading of zero. Next a dildo of an appropriate size needs to be inserted up into their arses where each is responsible for a vigorous time-and-time-again repeated penetration of the self/other over a period of “Time” bringing the self/other reading up to the Max. Plenty of lubrication recommended. This will re-calibrate the self/other confusion within their own brains up to the maximum Fahrenheit or Celsius reading. The object/subject-self/other scale is now reset within the time/space continuum. Once this joint recalibration is completed the parties involved can go fuck themselves and see what happens.

excerpt from paper:

Dr Spock – Speech on Human Personality Disorders:

The connection between the oral brain flow and digest blockages in the human subject; Late Capitalist Period Planet Earth.

Delivered at the Vogon conference “And you thought those Tribbles were Weird”

star date 2010009

Special thanks to:

Scotty in engineering for the lubricants.

Ensign Chekhov for repeatedly saying “wessel” to turn the subjects “on”.

Lieutenant Uhura for providing the miscommunications under experimental conditions.

Captain James T Kirk for the slingshot around the sun back-in-time, to collect the experimental subjects Camilla and Charles while picking up the smoke meat sandwiches in Old Montreal that made all those late nights in the lab bearable watching what we had to watch, all in the name of science.

and lastly

Dr. McCoy for the technical details on human anal functions and pointing out it wasn’t all that logical after all.


thought you said fart



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