Understanding the Nature of Art

Art is a form of expression that can be found in a variety of mediums, such as sculpture, painting, drawing, collage and photography. It’s often used to communicate a message, express emotion or simply record our world. It can also be viewed as a way to elevate our everyday lives and enhance our sense of well-being.

The earliest artistic displays can be traced to prehistoric times, when Homo sapiens painted the walls of caves for narrative, shamanic or ritual purposes. However, it was not until Ancient Egypt in around 3500 BCE that real art began to develop – when sculpted gods, kings and hunt scenes appeared on the walls of tombs.

For many people, the definition of art is a matter of taste. While some like to focus on the formal elements of a piece, others are more interested in whether it makes them feel something or connect with it. This has led to a wide gap between those who define art in traditional ways, having to do with order, harmony and representation, and those who prefer originality and experimentation, seeking meaning beyond the aesthetic experience.

Traditionally, artists have been regarded as experts in the nuances of their chosen medium and of human nature. However, the philosophies that underlie these views are sometimes obscure or unproven. A more revealing approach is to consider the nature of art as a means of grasping the world – not just the physical world, which is what science attempts to do; but the whole world of human society and spiritual experience.

At a basic level, art is an expression of the human instinct for balance and harmony (beauty), which is not a motivational function but part of our essence as humans beyond utility. This is what most art, whether we are talking about a classical bust of a monarch or a rock concert that lifts your spirits, is essentially about.

Art drives the development of a culture, supporting and also at times countering the established order by giving voice to subversive messages. It is what links disparate communities and appeals to our common humanity.

As a consequence, it has the power to promote tolerance and respect for differences. In this way, a wide appreciation of the range of the world’s artistic traditions could help us to bridge differences in our perceptions and understandings of each other. This would be a good step towards global peace. In this context, the commercial success of a performance or production becomes an important metric by which great art is judged – but it’s far better to have personal sensibilities about what constitutes great art than to base your opinion solely on a commercial consideration.