What Makes Art, Art? Perception, Interpretation, or Something More?


There is a saying that many have subscribed to for generations, and have accepted it as fact. That saying is the familiar pearl, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ We understand, through this widely used statement, that the concept of beauty is such a relative one that its defined terms change with whomever is actively doing the perceiving. What holds beauty to one, may not to another. It is a simple enough idea, and apparently resonates truthfully within so many of us for it to have grown to become such a popularly uttered phrasing among the masses. So if a concept such as beauty, can be that subjective, can the same be said for a medium of largely interpretative and conceptual products? We are speaking, in this case, of art.

What makes art, art?

Former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously spoke on the subject of pornography, saying, ‘I know it when I see it’. Many would probably say something similar if they were asked to define ‘art’. After being unable to pinpoint an exact definition, they would eventually concede that they could identify it if they saw it, even though they could not satisfactorily offer a verbal definition. So this would make art a matter of perception, much like beauty. However, if this were the case, then art would cease to be art if it were not perceived as such. But you see that is not the case. Art is always art, even if it is not recognized as such by everyone. So it goes beyond mere appreciation.


A few weeks ago, we were presented with a brilliant piece of art via a fellow Fuel member’s blog post about a commissioned piece of art that was created to fill a space on his wall and fulfill the role of tying his interior design together. Jin Yang’s post goes into so much great detail about all of the elements that he interpreted from the painting, and it got me thinking about the interpretative aspect of art. Jin describes a number of specific facets of the piece that not only spoke to him, but flawlessly incorporated the design flow he had previously established in his space. And even if these interpretations were unintended by the artist, they are there in Jin’s eyes. His mind moves across the surface of the painting picking up on details and elements that draw him deeper, that bring the abstract piece into a clear focus with its surroundings and not only offer understanding, but appreciation.


Connor, the artist of the piece, his work resonated in a way that was unexpected, and even if one could reasonably mount an argument over the inherent beauty of the painting he crafted, because as we stated beauty varies with perception, no one could reasonably argue that it is not art. You see, that is one of the things I came to realize and finally understand fully. Art is more than the perception of beauty, and the intention of the creator, it is about interpretation. (I will go ahead and state, that this is merely my humble opinion on the matter) Without the interpretation that each person is moved to uncover about a piece of art, it becomes a stagnant work that does not necessarily fit under that umbrella…ella, ella… sorry, got distracted for a second. In order to be labeled as art, it must connect with someone. It must move them enough to translate its meaning and answer what it means to them. If does not do this, then it is less art, and more creative expression.

What’s Your Take?

So where do you stand on this question? Do you think that the interpretative element is the defining one of art, or is it something more? For that matter, is it something less?

Rob is the talented author and graphic designer, celebrated podcaster and poet, who is now the co-editor and imaginative co-contributor of Fuel Your Creativity. With a background working through most areas of the arts, Rob works from a creative wellspring that shows no signs of running dry.


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