The Concept of Art


Whether it represents reality, conveys emotions or ideas, communicates culture’s deepest values, explores the nature of perception or creates formal elements for their own sake, art is a central part of every society. Its role varies over time, taking on more of an aesthetic component here and a socio-educational function there.

The concept of art has been debated by philosophers and historians for centuries, but it is an elusive subject. As a result, many definitions are open and subjective and subject to change over time. The term itself has even been pushed beyond its traditional boundaries by artists themselves who seek to redefine the art form and challenge preconceptions.

In ancient times, Plato and Aristotle framed philosophical questions about art in terms of its metaphysical qualities – its existence and essence. In medieval times, theologians focused on its moral and religious iconography. During the Renaissance, artists developed a more scientific approach, examining such aspects as color and perspective. This helped to expand the definition of art to include more visual and tactile elements.

Contemporary philosophers and historians continue to explore the concept of art, but their approaches are more speculative. Some scholars argue that the definition of art should be based on an understanding of the historical development of the practice of art. Other scholars rely on the concepts of structuralism and pragmatism to define art. These concepts provide a framework for the study of art and its history, but they are not self-contained theories or systems that can be defined in terms of their own principles and assumptions.

Another group of theorists look at art in a more Marxist context. They argue that the prevailing social conditions and power structures determine how the content of art is presented. For example, if the dominant mode of cultural expression is the sensual or perceptual, then art will inevitably be inferior to religion and philosophy that use a conceptual medium for their content.

While theorists of art are working within a framework of complex and interwoven theories, they also recognize that the data from which they work may be corrupt or incomplete. For example, some researchers suggest that a system of sexist and androcentric biases have shaped the canon of art over time. As a result, their attempts to construct a theory or set of definitions for art must be treated with suspicion.