In the essay "What is Art," Leo Tolstoy wrote, "Art…is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity."
Charles Eames wrote, "Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.”
Filmmaker Federico Fellini said, “All art is autobiographical."
André Gide said, "Art begins with resistance, at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor."
“Art tends toward balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living," said Robert Henri, "very good things for anyone to be interested in.”
John Sloan said, “Art is the result of a creative impulse derived out a consciousness of life.”
Susan Sontag said, "Art is a form of consciousness."
“For art and joy go together, with bold openness, and high head, and ready hand,” said James McNeill Whistler, “fearing nought, and dreading no exposure.”
"Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known," wrote Oscar Wilde. He also wrote, “It is through…art and art only that we can shield ourselves form the sordid perils of actual existence.”
And Pablo Picasso said, "What do you think an artist is? ...he is a political being, constantly aware of the heart breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war."
John Szabo, a Laguna Beach artist and writer, also wrote an essay called "What is Art." He wrote, "In 2011, the question of what is art remains as relevant as it did in 1896 when Tolstoy wrote: "Art consists in one human consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being affected by those feelings and also experiencing them."
"What would Tolstoy think of artists selling perishable re-creations of stocked medicine cabinets or giant balloon sculptures made of stainless steel; all backed by international PR, marketing and sales campaigns.
Frieze Art Fair
"I traveled from Laguna Beach to the Frieze Art Fair in London, to view what many art critics and scholars consider the finest contemporary art in the world. The fair is represented by over 150 prestigious art galleries. I hoped to find out more about what is art.
"Soon after entering the fair, I literally stumbled upon an installation piece made of a pile of dirty socks. I later returned and discreetly added my dirty left sock. My addition to the piece was still there the next day when I returned to give the show another chance; this time discovering a real gem; seven canvases splattered with bird shit.
"I was corrected by a woman from the gallery who had brought this masterpiece to Frieze. She barely glanced up from her ipad when I asked the meaning of the work. She said that it was not made of bird shit, but of 'pigeon droppings.' She told me to read the statement of purpose on the wall before asking more questions. I never asked the woman what is art?
"Leading art critics and historians continue to question the value of defining what is art. 'More or less anything can be designated as art,' according to art historian Thomas McEvilley. Arthur Danto, professor of philosophy at Columbia University believes, 'You can't say something's art or not art anymore.'
Defining What is Art
"I left London convinced that to ponder what is art is the wrong question. It seems that almost anything and everything is considered art today and that the more germane question is what constitutes great or even good art?
"Tolstoy concluded in his 'What is Art' essay: 'In order to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life…The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man's expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it.'
John Szabo's interests include photography's origins, modern and contemporary art in its many styles and disciplines, the impact of film on people's lives and the nature of art criticism. He examines the diverse tools and methods employed in visual art today, to understand how they are used in order to expand his vision and approaches in his own works - which range from photography to painting to filmmaking.
(See also Art and Spirituality, How to Look at Art and Why is Art Important.)