The Developing Definition of Art

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Art is a difficult word to define.

Wikipedia defines it as ‘a product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects the senses, emotions and intellect’.

It also says that the word art was traditionally used for skill or mastery, but later as an intention to stimulate thoughts and emotions.

According to David Bohm, as I quoted in my previous post, the original definition was ‘to fit’. He said that the word art has come to mean ‘to fit, in an aesthetic and emotional sense’, but, as Bohm showed, art can also mean ‘fitting in a functional sense’.

When I read that, it indeed made very much sense to me. But ‘fitting’ was not exactly a word that I found when I searched for several definitions of art. So I searched specific for that and found some old definitions that said ‘fit together, join’ and ‘skill in joining or fitting’.

Taking all the definitions together, I get the following ingredients that have to be present in order to call something art:

  • a product or a process
  • skill or mastery
  • fit together in a certain context
  • affect senses, emotions, intellect in others

So far this is a definition of art that describes a person to person thing. One person has the skill to produce something (a product or process that fits together in a certain context) that affects another person.

Searching for New Patterns

But there is also an element of ‘fitting’ in the whole of society. Or actually of not fitting, not going together harmonious in society, that is the ground for art to rise. Even how we nowadays are more likely to define art. Many things show the skills of a person and affect another person, but are not seen as art.

Now, in general, art is more about changing contexts, going beyond what is known. But it is still about seeing a new ‘fit’. Going beyond the well known, but still making it appealing.  Searching for new patterns ‘that are fitting in every sense’, as Bohm defines beauty.

So apart from the previous four ingredients in the definition of art, there is a fifth:

  • a search for new patterns that fit in a greater whole

Something that goes beyond the individual. Which is about the individual in the whole of society. Or the society in the whole of the world. Or history. Or even of the world in the whole of the universe.

Searching for a new order, that can only arise if the individual gets a sense of a new pattern. Patterns that are underneath and go beyond the visible and already known.

The developing definition of art

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