Defining (visual) art: A living document

Of late, I’ve taken to defining (visual) art. This is, really, somewhat of a ridiculous task (But it is also something an artist, or one interested in the arts, should think about.). Hence, I call the resulting document a “living document.” That is, I expect it to change regularly throughout my own lifetime, particularly on account of changes in language.

Defining visual art (the process of stating a precise meaning)

Pay more attention to the idea than the word defined, lest one become hung up on their own vernacular.

* How do you define art considering the changing nature of words, connotatively and denotatively? Is it a definition that has to be revised on a regular basis, per the predominate culture? And would you strive for a world-wide understanding, or just local understanding?

* How do you define something within a specific social context which is so flexible?

The ability to think abstractly or profoundly. In the context of, “The ability to learn and reason; the capacity for knowledge and understanding.”

Something that is intended; an aim or purpose.

The ability to confront and deal with reality by using the creative power of the
mind; (resourcefulness: handled the problems with great imagination.)

Artists see what is real, and imagine what is possible (this from a variety of sources as I recall).

One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol

It’s not a 1:1 communication, even as a photograph.

and Allegory
A symbolic representation

Does non-representational work do this in a subconscious manner?

The exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior.

Is art for arts sake (beauty) still communication?

Skill in doing or making something, as in the arts; proficiency.

Must the craft be “good?” What about folk art (Southern preacher folk art)

How do you determine good craft, particularly in abstract or non-representational works? (I think it can be done.)

Viewer (aka “audience”)
One that views, especially an onlooker or spectator. Also: A close observer; someone who looks at something (such as an exhibition of some kind).

Is one person an audience? Is a human audience necessary?

Relating to or affecting any of the senses or a sense organ; sensory.

To the eye and the hand, and/or to all senses?



About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

5 Responses to Defining (visual) art: A living document

  1. Pingback: Mass production and the artist: A hypothesis « The Aesthetic Elevator

  2. Pingback: Early morning abstraction « The Aesthetic Elevator

  3. Like your self, I too have struggled for years on the Quest to define “Art”. the following is a conclusion that I believe will stand the test of time with few changes, it is based on absolutes that apply to all of Art all the time, it is what it is…

    ‘The Definition of ART”
    (By M. A. Gallegos, B. F. A.)

    “Art” is a declaration of recognition, it applies to all things and sustained within the boundaries of conducive environments, it is achieved through constructive and destructive means and realized along perceptual planes; in essence, it is something, anything and everything, however, it is nothing until it is processed in the minds of living beings (humans). — “Art” is an extension of our Human Perceptuality (Humanity); it is “nothing” until we show it, speak it and make a part of our lives.

    this is the foundation for an “Introductory Art Program” I created to facilitate the reconciliation of common misconceptions about “Art” and the “Creative Process”. My program offers a realistic perspective of “Contemporary Art Theory” through an understanding of the “Elements” and “Properties” that define “ART”.

    This course was designed in an effort guide the inherent creativity of our youths away from current destructive inclinations and to help them to recognize their creative potential to become a constructive force in an ever-changing society through the understanding and application of ART…

    Visual Art is the first of 3 ascending Art Catagories, followed by Literal and Performing Arts

    For more information or if you are interested in implamenting this program in your community Call Mark Gallegos @ (209)261-4559

  4. Pingback: Is art defined by communication? « The Aesthetic Elevator

  5. Pingback: Defining Art: The two Cs « The Aesthetic Elevator

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