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The Meaning of Art

Such a broad concept.

By PaigePublished 11 months ago 5 min read

Art is a broad concept that is interpreted differently by all individuals. The oxford definition of art is, “the expression of human creative skill and imagination, typically in visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. The various branches of creativity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.” Although this definition is literal and gives many forms of art used for the expression of the human mind an emotional base, personal interpretation is very important as well and gives art true value.

People often disagree about whether or not the artist’s or author’s intention is relevant to the interpretation of the work. It is often difficult to know how to properly interpret works of art. The question that obviously comes to mind is as to what factors should guide people’s interpretation of the works. Some go to one extreme known as isolationism. This extreme involves the knowledge of the artist’s biography, historical background, and other similar factors that prove irrelevant to the appreciation of the art and can usually be harmful by getting in the way since this information tends to substitute for the more difficult attempt to come to grips with the work in itself.

Contextualism is another extreme that people use to try to understand and interpret works of art. This extreme maintains that the work should always be captured in its setting, or context, and that mere knowledge about the piece but rather total apprehension of the work is much richer if it is approached in this way. According to those who see art from this extreme, not only literature, but also other arts including nonrepresentational music and painting should be perceived this way. It is by personal thought and feeling which extreme is used to interpret a piece of art.

Although isolationism and contextualism are the two extremes of interpretation neither critics nor art lovers need hold themselves to the undiluted form of these positions. Someone may be an isolationist about some forms of music; they could also very well be a contextualist about others such as historical dramas and religious paintings. It is imperative to be more precise about the aspects that the contextualist maintains which are either necessary or extremely helpful in appreciation of the arts. This is important so as not to only use careful and repeated survey of the artwork itself.

When difficulties occur pertaining to what to make of a piece of art or when multiple adverse interpretations come to mind, how is this resolved? One way is to consult the artist if possible. If this is not possible however, possibly consult the artist’s records or memoirs, testimony of the artist’s friends, acquaintances, or associates. To some, believing the way the artist intended the work is the way it should be interpreted is tempting. There is actually a name for this temptation, as it is called “the intentional fallacy,” the misinterpretation of believing that however the artist intended the work is the way it truly is by definition.

If an artist’s intentions are not abundantly executed within the piece, this is considered to be an artistic glitch, resulting in the recipient having outside for assistance. Moreover, one the artist has completed and presented his or her work to the world, it is no longer exclusively the artist’s, whom is now just another of many critics who shall be respected but not revered as the final rule. Perhaps there is a critic who can think of a greater interpretation that the artist themselves could not at the time of formulation. Some of which may even be acceptable interpretations themselves giving the piece a greater aesthetic.

John Wolfgang von Goeth set forth three precedents for critics to consider when adapting and assessing works of art in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. First to consider: What was the artist trying to do? This being an intentionalist question, says that this is certainly plausible since the artist can not notably be blamed for failing to depict what they did not intend to. This being the case, one must first understand what the artist was proposing. The second of the three criteria being: Did the artist do it? This is a question which blatantly ask if the artist succeeded at depicting that which he or she intended. The third and final question: Was it worth doing? This is a very open inquiry, as it can be open to the opinion of many. Some may say no when looking at a piece such as “Baked Potato” by Roy Lichtenstein since it seems to be such a trivial piece.

An inquirer of persistence may pose the question of whether or not there are some works in which the intentions of the artist must be blatantly obvious. To the anti-intentionalist the answer to that is no, since a critic can be honest about how the piece was conceived yet also praise the work in another aspect that it may not have been intended for. Although the intentionalist does have a valid point. Occasionally the key to deciphering an otherwise resolute piece may derive from the artists testimony of purpose. Both viewpoints on the matter have excellent questions and standpoints, and there is no right or wrong way to feel about a work of art.

Art is a very broad definition of the creativity of those who create it. Since art is derived from the imagination and creativity of an individual, everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint and interpretation. Art has always been a largely valued piece of history and expression. The works of those with the creativity will forever continue around the world and leave its mark on past and future generations.


About the Creator


I have always felt a bit out of step in my life. Be it making friends or trying to understand why I have never been the one that people choose to keep in their lives long term. I paint and I love to write. Expression is where I thrive.

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