What is Art?

Imagine that a little child points at a lamp and asks, “Is this art?” Then a chair. “Is THIS art? He asks the same question concerning several objects in the room — a coffee cup, a bowl of cereal, and so on. Now imagine the room goes on forever. It becomes the search for Pi. The question is irrational.

101 years ago a well-known artist named Marcel Duchamp presented a urinal as a piece of art, and it became one the most famous works of the 20th century. It’s the art piece that caused artists world to grapple with that question, “What is art?”

Whether or not you’ve been through art school, the following scene will most likely feel familiar: An art critic walks past skillfully sculpted figures and exquisite paintings towards the object of her affection. You know what she’s going for. She approaches a blank canvas with glee, overcome by anticipation of the critique. She relishes each word of pontification as she compares it to pre-Raphaelite — no, Bauhaus design. Is there something she sees in that blank white field? She must be smarter than you and me.

Pardon the cynicism. Let’s pose a related question.

What is the purpose of a mountaintop view? What is the purpose of a sunrise overt the ocean? CS Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” We can question a thing into oblivion, we can see right through it — and miss it completely. Its beauty and impact on our lives will be lost on us. What is the meaning of nature? Nature itself — the mountaintop views and the sunrises over the ocean — are bigger than that question. So is art. So is life.

When you look out onto the ocean and see the patterns in the distance of the sun dancing on the water— just marvel at it. Let it take your breath away. When you look at an utterly beautiful piece of art, marvel at it. Marvel that is was wrought by human hands. The lines, the curves, the beauty that was translated from the human heart and imagination into the physical world. Get lost in it. It’s nice to feel small. It’s nice to be in awe. Let it take you away like a beautiful music. Like art. Like life.

“Is this art?” “Is THIS life?” Asking the question forever can prevent us from making something beautiful — and from living. THE ANSWER IS YES.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” — Socrates

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