What is Art?

[youtube width=”500″ height=”400″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-LFlKqwu_g[/youtube]

If the definition of art

has developed over time,

and if it is defined as

‘a product or process

of deliberately arranging symbolic elements

in a way that influences and affects

the senses, emotions and intellect’

and also says that the word art

was traditionally used for skill or mastery,

but later as an intention

to stimulate thoughts and emotions,

and if according to David Bohm,

the original definition was ‘to fit’,

that the word art has come to mean

‘to fit, in an aesthetic and emotional sense’,

but can also mean

‘fitting in a functional sense’,

then taking those definitions together,

you get the following ingredients for art:

1. a product or a process

2. skill or mastery

3. fit together in a certain context

4. 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.

But there is also an element of ‘fitting’

or ‘not fitting’ in the whole of society.

And art is about changing contexts,

going beyond what is known.

About seeing a ‘new fit’.

Searching for new patterns

‘that are fitting in every sense’.

So apart from the previous 4 ingredients

in the definition of art,

there is a 5th:

5. a search for new patterns that fit in a greater whole

Something that goes beyond the individual.

A search for a new order

in the whole of society or beyond.


From the post The Developing Definition of Art / Music from Stationary Traveller by Camel / Painting from Emptytuxedo / More videos / More David Bohm Blogposts

Creativity in the whole of life


  1. There is no understanding that an artist is a transformation of the human being and is attempting a redefinition of what is to be alive in a mysterious universe. [Today] We assume art as a gift to culture by one and the same kind of individual that already lives in that culture.

    — I been thinking a lot about art, I just wrote that two days ago. I think it goes well with what you say “A search for a new order
    in the whole of society or beyond.” I particularly sense that art is a calling to break with what is known and step into new layers of the unknown. The artist must bear this burden and often times be viewed as a renegade to society for suggesting perilous forms of thinking, behavior, and, in Bohm’s words: world views.

    1. I loved the article. Very much how I see things.

      I also have been thinking a lot about art. For long already, but especially lately, as I am trying to understand the meaning of it.

      I agree that art is a calling to break with what is known, because at a certain point, that breaking is the only way (I guess) to proceed. But this breaking, as important as it is (or maybe even essential) is just another step in the process of human development, and I really think it is important to reconnect again later on. This stepping out and stepping in again, is what life is in essence about, as I see it.

      And I also see the artist as a transformation of the human being, but then I see it as the artist in each of us. I think there is a strong calling at this moment in time to go beyond the point of being only an observer of art.

      So I would love to have a dialogue about all that, to explore it further.

  2. There are moments where I feel art is the simple act of perception itself. In other words, it’s a special attention to Being, where things appear instantly miraculous. The artist having an acute sense of this type of perceiving and living tries to convey some of that with the work of art. From this perspective, if true in limited cases, then the work of art is simply a signpost, a calling to humanity to emerge from the tides of monotony and sense that miraculousness that is so patent in the artist’s world view. — just a thought (from my own experience).

    1. Somehow I also feel the direct perception is essential here. And I also see the work of art as a signpost.

      But for it to be a signpost, there has to be more than just a perception. The artist has to ‘do’ something with this perception, ‘make’ it into something, ‘manifest’ it. And in my opinion it is more than just ‘passing it through’, because that would be more like ‘medium’ than ‘artist’.

      I think an artist ‘works’ or even ‘struggles’ with this perception and transforms it into something new, which is unique to his or her personal perception of this ‘direct perception’.

      Just some of my thoughts on this.

  3. Absolutely, it’s a very active struggle. That mode of perception needs to carved out of the commonsense. The artist struggles because s/he is alone in this quest to bring out the “new”, what’s novel in life, in experience. It’s tough because the artist doesn’t get immediate confirmation that his or her mode of perceiving is any valid. This reminds me of some Ernest Becker’s reflexions when he’s telling about ‘Art and Artist’ by Otto Rank, he explains about the artist: “The is something in his [the artist’s] life experience that makes him take in the world as a problem… Existence becomes a problem that needs an ideal answer; but when you no longer accept the collective solution to the problem of existence, then you must fashion your own.” So, this implies a lot of things. First of all, the artist needs monumental self-confidence, to push away the conventions of the time and create new meaning. Becker later on continues: “What right do ou have to play God? Especially if your work is great, absolutely new and different. You wonder where to get the *authority* for introducing new meanings into the world, the strength to bear it”.

    I think that struggles entails not only suffering (from solitude, constant insatisfaction with the current state of affairs) but also a strange form of guilt, a reaction resulting when you introduce new modes of art, new languages and roads to perception. It’s a guilt related to having to justify your work, to justify ‘the new vision’ with the work of art itself, because that work of art goes out into the world and is perceived by the very people the artist is constantly fighting against. If his or her work is not appreciated, s/he is alone in the claim of its validity but if appreciated by others, then suddenly it becomes part of the status quo, the conventional. It’s a paradox, that the artist wants ‘the new’ but produces the work FOR the people, for that itself that is stagnant and repetitive.

    I guess the artist has the hope that everyone becomes an artist and we all produce something new and challenging. If the art is propelled only by the desire of personal recognization, then it is just a cry for help in the open, begging for justification that his or her work is deemed valid, as something meaningful and worthy. If it is a necessary production, a calling that cannot be shun away, regardless of the repercussions, then we come closer to genuine art which may, socially speaking, be for the better or for the worse. We should not assume a priori that art will create a better world, that the world itself is benevolent and everything in it trustworthy. The work of art may reveal aspects of life that are perverse and cruel and that may influence society in less than desirable ways.

    I stop here for today.

    1. Somehow I have the feeling that this self-confidence indeed has to be monumental. If you expect answers or confirmation or approval from others, the response is never going to be the one that ‘you’ need. The answer can only be found by looking inside and trusting your own judgment.

      This fighting against the status quo, seems indeed like a huge problem for the artist. What very much resonated with me was the following from Schiller in his Letters on Aesthetic Education: “Live with your age, but be not its creation; labour for your contemporaries, but do for them what they need, and not what they praise.” As I see it, it is extremely important that you do it because you just absolutely want to do it. Not because of some feeling of responsibility or guilt or desire for approval, but just because it would be a complete selfdenial to not do it.

      I absolutely agree that we should not assume that art will create a better world. But mainly because I am not sure what would be ‘a better world’. I sure do not think that ‘peace’ and ‘everyone getting along’ and ‘agreeing with each other’ is that better world. For me the most important aspect of this better world is understanding. And then mainly an understanding of development. And a better understanding of that might be the soil for discussion or even better, true dialogue.

      Again just some thoughts that come to mind after reading what you wrote.

  4. Art is an unconscious expression revealed to consciousness by the artist.Any values placed on the expression are purely conscious efforts and have nothing to do with the real impact of it’s qualities.There is no measure in the unconscious. It just is.

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