Definitions of Art

1. Art is a manifestation of humankind's creative and imaginative faculties which, like all such creative disciplines, is conditioned to a large degree by the sum of its history. 

2. Who decides what constitutes important art is decided by a consensus of the most respected artists, critics, curators and historians which recognises over time those artists who have made work, and a contribution to the development of art, which is significant and enduring.

Artists, ultimately, decide what Art is because it is they who make it. 

3. To be Art, a work must be profound, resonant and enduring. 'Profound' meaning work which possesses qualities which impress us with a particular authority and coherence, or which addresses substantial themes or issues. 'Resonant' means that the work has a particular quality of engagement, a way in which work can be meaningfully experienced, enjoyed and "comprehended" by the viewer. 'Enduring' means that the work possesses sufficient depth - not just as a piece of work on its own but also as an indicator of what is taking place within the practice of art - that we may return to it year after year for decades and centuries.

4. To be Art (with a capital "A", meaning historically important art), a work must say something important about the condition of art, or what it is to be human, about the contemporary condition of society, be profoundly inspirational in aesthetic terms, or by the strength of the ideas contained within the work. 

5. Much confusion surrounding art arises because we use the same word for historically important art and countless other forms of creative practice and expression. We are reluctant, and often have difficulty, making distinctions between the products of an enjoyable pastime and those works of art we hold up as among the finest embodiments of human culture.

6. An individual might think that art is whatever the viewer thinks it is, and that may be true for the person concerned, but whether something is Art or not is defined by a consensus, which, because of the painstakingly slow nature of its construction, is both reliable and enduring. It is beyond question that Pablo Picasso was an important artist. Picasso's work has been recognised by successive generations of artists, historians, curators and critics as significant, innovative, and profoundly influential. Whatever the subsequent course of art. no individual, personal opinion can alter the fact that Picasso's work occupies a significant place in art's development and history.

7. Few critics in history have appreciated new art at the time it appeared. Most critics vigorously opposed almost every significant development in art, including Impressionism, which took several decades to be accepted by critics before eventually becoming massively popular with audiences. Critical failure to understand, and to be able to explain, artistic developments since the beginnings of modern art in the middle of the 19th century, has contributed greatly to the failure of public understanding of art.

8. It is possible to appreciate and to comprehend new art at the time it is created though it is difficult, if not impossible, to reach a definitive judgement of an artist's worth immediately. After roughly twenty years of the production of substantial work through successive exhibitions we may begin to consider the work of an artist significant. After a fifty year period those judgements start to become definitive and will probably change little.

9. There are rarely more than a few hundred significant artists during the course of any century, thus averaging one, two or three per year anywhere in the world. Work which becomes part of the "canon" of historically significant art is extremely rare. The accumulation of the these works over decades and centuries constitutes a consensually recognised art history.

10. Artistic developments are driven by a small number of particularly significant advances, made by very few artists and which happen rarely, given the sheer quantity of 'artistic' production. The form and appearance of 20th century art was outlined by the work of just one or two hundred artists, as is the case with any epoch and any artistic medium. The blues style of guitar music was created by a handful of individuals, and yet the blues form has been copied by tens of thousands of musicians for almost a century, eventually becoming a bland and meaningless pastiche compared to the profound and shattering origination of the form, whose creators often go unrecognised.

11. Significant work usually alters or extends the possibilities of what art is, thereby informing the "condition" of art. Art which is important informs the condition of art.

12. An artwork contains a number of elements - whether it contains a subject, what it is attempting to depict and how, using which materials, forms and techniques. It is the resolution of the dialogue of these inter-relations within a work which give an artwork complexity, substance and depth, which makes significant art significant and is why it endures.

13. Ideas and expression in all the arts are usually simple to understand. Processes of communication, mutual recognition and understanding articulate the communality of human experience - what we share, what we value and why. The arts consolidate values we know define us as civilised human beings. The average person is able to perceive what is good and coherent in any art. It is coherence which makes great art and humans have an innate capacity to detect what is coherent and what isn't. Thus anybody can appreciate art, whether or not they are capable of making it.

14. Fine art is, arguably, the purest and highest form of creativity because it has no proscribed raw material, and is freer to engage with the world of ideas. Music uses sound, literature employs language, but art uses only whichever form is relevant, which for most of history has been some kind of image or three-dimensional form. Being experienced visually, a work of art possesses a clarity and immediacy which most other art forms do not have. A book takes longer to read. A film needs to be seen in its entirety. Music is arguably more captivating because it is physical and continual but is generally listened to in its entirety. Art's visual nature creates a form of engagement which is both immediate and slow to fully absorb.

15. It is not sufficient for a work to be art 'because the artist says so'. This approach to art is taken from the work and ideas of Marcel Duchamp who in the first decades of the 20th century exhibited everyday objects claiming that they were art because he, the artist, selected them. Duchamp realised that art could be art by virtue of the strength of its ideas, rather than its aesthetic qualities, and supported his approach to art with a vast, complex and highly original body of work. Few, if any, "conceptual" artists have taken Duchamp's ideas further than Duchamp himself.

The term "conceptual" more correctly belongs to the work of Sol LeWitt who wrote sets of instructions to make wall drawings to be carried out by assistants. Conceptual art is really the process of making an artwork following predetermined instructions, rather than its contemporary meaning - that an artwork contains an idea which is central to the understanding of the artwork.

16. It is partly the role of artist to ask questions as to what art is, but also to provide answers. Art cannot generally be just a reaction or a protest. It needs qualities that make it sufficiently interesting to merit being Art itself.

17. Art is in large part, judgement, as the artist will know that their work is important even if it has no direct precedent. Part of the artist's role is to see a way forward for art.

18. The artist should be concerned with the well-being of Art.

19. The techniques of painting, or the learning an instrument, are not particularly difficult, it is what one does with them that is important.

20. Significant art functions through concision; the strictness and clarity of its ideas are what give it credence.

21. Breakthroughs are, by definition, untidy.

22. The romantic viewpoint is to think that there is something mysterious in the act of creation, which there is, but the moments of actual creation are rare, and a vast amount of time is spent doing things which provide the structures to allow such creative moments to take place.

23. The process of engagement with art is one of extended duration, an abstract dialogue between artifact and viewer.

24. In dealing with multiple ideas, it is easier to refer to images than to language.

25. The abstract nature of Art, and culture generally, is, in a time of chronic materialism, one of the few forms of tangible meaning, and the reason, however obscured by financial extremes, why art is valued.

26. It is rarely debated that there may be occasional sea changes in art which render current practice obsolete.

27. The advent of new technologies does not necessarily mean new worthwhile forms of art. Technology has played with removing materiality from art, making it difficult for a viewer to form an emotional attachment to a computer screen or other virtual media where technological processes dictate much of the outcome. Artistic authenticity resides in the totality of the artwork which includes the process of how it is made. Technology does not obviate the question of content.

28. The most practical function of art is an advance of ideas, as few people ever experience seeing the works they nonetheless know through reproduction.

29. Art responds to social and cultural imperatives. Important art appears when it is needed.

30. The way of understanding art is usually implicit within the artwork itself - by following the process by which the work was made.

31. Art projects ideas and strategies for what our experience of reality is, adding to the compendium of definitions and practices which society refers to as culture. The arrival of new art forms usually requires an adjustment to our frames of reference.

32. An artist will usually have lived with their own work for years or decades before it is exhibited and it often takes the artist many years to be sure that a piece of work is credible. A casual observer who sees work for the first time is not always able to give adequate thought, time and attention, or bring an understanding of both art history and the contemporary climate, to know if a new form of art is viable.

33. An artist must wait to be accepted until consensual opinion becomes bored with what it last celebrated as interesting.

34. Art is of its time and artists rarely make work which keep up with the rhythms of societal change. An artist's fundamental ideas change little throughout their career and usually have a homogeneity which make an author recognisable, even if a viewer has not seen a particular work before.

35. An artist makes work which communicates entirely what it is, without any need of explication, but should be able, if needed, to explain their work in a way which is comprehensible.

36. Hardship is inevitable for artists so long as the administration of culture remains unable to recognise, and provide for, new, significant artists.

37. How little truly significant new art there is is becoming apparent in the need to mount themed historical exhibitions which risk distorting art history, while making enjoyment of works impossible through massive overcrowding.

38. Art should not generally be sold on the open market because art is part of humankind's common heritage and should be available and accessible to all. The chance of acquiring many important works for public collections has been lost and it is unlikely that societies will ever again witness the kind of artistic production seen over the last centuries. If state galleries and museums had appreciated modern art sooner their collections would be better, worth ever more as assets, and would attract more visitors because of the stregth of the collections. Leaving aside art's cultural value, which should of itself be justification for the support of culture, the arts bring enormous sums to a country's economy and therefore significant cultural investment is affordable.

39. The most important, often monumental, leaps in culture have been made with only the slightest of materials. There is something beyond material practice which gives meaning to important historical artworks - namely the idea and its ramifications, achieved usually through changes in emphasis and refinement of an ever-evolving historical precedent, and very occasionally through wholly new ideas. To create something new and worthwhile is extremely difficult, as so many things have already been expressed, and so many forms of expression tried. When we write a book we do not re-invent the concept of language.

40. You cannot  "explain" a work of art, or even, in most cases, adequately describe one. The experience of an artwork has an effect which is beyond language.

41. An artwork barely needs content, such can be the authority of its form and structure.

42. Artworks are appealing for their absence of superfluity and for their sincerity.

43. Art deals with things so permanent they form part of a changed reality.

44. Art is visual and beyond language.

45. Art encapsulates and articulates the condition of its time.

46. Given such a long, rich, and diverse history, and the extraordinary popularity and importance of the arts across all societies, a history of culture should be present in the school curriculum, yet creative and artistic activities and subjects are forever marginalised to save money, making education as a whole all the more restricted and ineffectual.

47. In order that everyone can benefit from all aspects of the arts to the fullest extent, any cultural policy should be concerned with nationwide accessibility to works of art historical importance in museums and public collections, and access for everyone to creative activities, starting in schools, in order to benefit from personal, creative expression.

48. When asked, we turn to art as an example of humankind's finest qualities, but in everyday experience the arts are treated as an indulgence and a drain on resources.

49. Support for artists should be possible by identifying the very small number whose work is particularly significant and helping them through grants and by purchasing work for public collections. A diverse, constantly revolving panel of respected specialists, practitioners and lay participation should be charged with selecting a number of artists per year for support and this process should be transparent, the selection process and discussions with the artist made public. Societies deserve a system of arts administration making a living possible for significant artists, and acquiring works for collections accessible to the public.

50. The development of art can be understood by observing the changes in its appearance, which, despite the occasionally radical departures which punctuate art history, are perceptibly natural, coherent, and logical. After centuries of realistic depiction, artists of the modern era realised many different forms of representation were possible, choosing to paint in a looser, more contemporary and expressive manner, by representing everyday life rather than myths and ancient history, and by exploring the "materiality" of art - art's basic elements of colour, line, surface, form, scale and material. Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso explored structural questions of the two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world. Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondian, Mark Rothko and others realised that abstractions of form and colour contained enormous potential for spiritual expression. Even after Marcel Duchamp predicted the end of aesthetic art, and abstraction implied the end of a recognisable subject, representational aethetics, through the evolution of traditional forms of painting and sculpture, remained fundamental to the art of the 20th century.