The Definition of Art

Art is a difficult concept to pin down. Even just deciding whether something is art or not is subjective and can depend on many factors, from the artist’s intentions to the viewer’s experience of the work. Regardless of how you define it, it is clear that art has had an important role in human civilizations from the beginnings of civilisation.

Art has been seen as a form of expression and communication of emotions or ideas, as an exploration of formal elements for their own sake, as mimesis or representation, and more recently, as a medium in which communities develop for themselves a space for self-expression and interpretation. Its role has also been seen as a form of escapism or entertainment and a way to challenge and explore the boundaries of what is possible, such as pushing the limits of human anatomy or exploring the possibilities of new technologies.

Whether it is a child’s finger-painting or a piece of sculpture made by a master, the intention behind the work is what makes it art. The act of creating art evokes feelings of pride, joy, sorrow and frustration. Often, there is also an element of hope, as artists are hoping that their work will inspire others or make them feel the same as they did.

A key component in the definition of art is its beauty. This is also subjective, but a work of art is considered beautiful when it attracts attention and elicits aesthetic-related responses from viewers. The beauty of an artwork is dependent on the individual’s cultural background, mood, exposure to art and other influences. For example, a painting of a beautiful landscape will not appeal to someone who does not view nature as a source of beauty.

What makes a piece of art different from the rest of reality is that it has been selected out of context and imbued with significance, turning it into a sign or symbol. In humans, this is likely due to a combination of evolutionary pressures and brain evolution. The brain regions that are involved in symbolic and abstract cognition have evolved to be sensitive to the ambiguities of signs, such as artistic symbols (Carstairs-McCarthy, 2004). In addition, precursors for combinatorial syntactical language, like those found in H. sapiens, may have been kick-started by the genetic mutation of FOXP2.

It is difficult to study art in a scientific way because it is not a functional object. However, the brain’s response to art has been studied in a number of ways. For example, the pleasure-related neurotransmitters dopamine and opiate are released when a person experiences art that is perceived as being beautiful or enjoyable. Furthermore, the visual parts of the brain have been shown to activate when people experience art that is enjoyable or beautiful. A more recent study has shown that a specific part of the brain, the lingual gyrus, is involved in processing color and understanding its meaning.