User:Mackiwg/Sandbox/OERu Art test

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ART 100: Introduction to Art

OCL Project

Module 1

Introduction and Definitions

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How would you define ‘art’?

For many people art is a specific thing; a painting, sculpture or photograph, a dance, a poem or a play. It is all of these things, and more. They are mediums of artistic expression. Webster’s New Collegiate dictionary defines art as “The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” Yet art is much more than a medium, or words on a page. It is the expression of our experience.

“Ultimately, one’s unbound / curiosity about these empty zones, / about these objectless vistas, / is what art seems to be all about.”

Art is uniquely human and tied directly to culture. It takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. As an expressive medium it allows us to experience sublime joy, deep sorrow, confusion and clarity. It tests our strengths, vulnerabilities and resolve. It gives voice to ideas and feelings, connects us to the past, reflects the present and anticipates the future. Along these lines, art history, combined with anthropology and literature, are three main sources in observing, recording and interpreting our human past. Visual art is a rich and complex subject whose definition is in flux as the culture around it changes. Because of this, how we define art is in essence a question of agreement. In this respect, we can look again to the dictionary’s definition for an understanding of exactly what to look for when we proclaim something as ‘art’.

Form and Content

The two basic considerations of art are form: its physical and visible characteristics, and content: the meaning we derive from the work. These two terms are roped together in the climb to understand what art has to offer us. As we examine art from different times, styles and cultures, the issues of form and content will apply to all of them.


Aesthetics is the philosophical argument about the nature of beauty. It’s an idea central to any exploration of art. Aesthetics deals with notions of taste, cultural conventions and the judgments we make based on our perceptions.

As deep as visual art is embedded in the fabric of our lives, it still is the source of controversy and irony. It thrives on common experience yet contradicts ideas of ourselves. Art is part of the culture it’s created in, but can reflect many cultures at once. From where you and I stand today art has become probably more complex than ever. We need a way to access the visual information of our society, of past cultures, and cultures not known to us to have a way to understand what we are looking at.

So, the first level in approaching art is learning to LOOK at it. In future discussions we will spend more time in pure observation than you probably have done before. Generally, we tend to look at art in terms of "liking" it FIRST, and "looking" at it later. From this perspective, the "subjective" (knowledge residing in the emotions and thoughts of the viewer) almost completely dominates our way of looking at art. In the arts, it is especially important to begin to develop an informed or objective opinion rather than just an instinctual reaction. An objective view is one that focuses on the object’s physical characteristics as the main source of information. This does not mean that you will remove or invalidate your subjective feelings about a work, in fact you will find that the more informed you become, the more artwork will affect you emotionally and intellectually. It does mean that you will learn alternative ways to approach art, ways that allow you to find clues to meaning and to understand how art reflects and affects our lives.

It’s complex, but the satisfaction of looking at art comes from exploring the work to find meaning, not shying away from it simply because we don’t ‘understand’ it. Finding a definition is important because of the role art plays in societies and cultures.

Visual artists and the works they produce perform specific roles. These roles vary between cultures. We can examine some general areas to see the diversity they offer – and perhaps come up with some new ones of our own.