The Meaning of Art, The Art of Meaning

art

noun \ˈärt\
something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings [Source: Merriam-Webster]

Everybody is an artist. According to the word’s most basic definition, an artist is simply a person who creates art. Art is subjective — e.g. “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — and therefore, cannot be measured by its significance or the level of skill with which it is created. Its subjective nature makes art’s only measurable quality the fact of whether or not it exists.

So how can we judge art, really? Save for a piece’s existence, there is almost nothing definitive about it. To me, good art is transcendent — of both time and absolute meaning. It is inherently controversial. Good art can mean something different to everyone, eliciting a Debate to the Death or merely an Agreement to Disagree. I not only believe good art can cause problems; I believe it can solve them.

Good art has the ability to inspire and provoke. Good art is contagious. It also has the ability to distract and envelop. Whether we are creating it or appreciatively immersed in it, good art is there for whatever reason we need it to be.

Now, since I’ve outlined my beliefs about good art, one might suspect that I also believe in bad art. But that is not the case. Like I said before, art’s innate subjectivity doesn’t allow us to declare whether it is “good” or “bad.” However, I do believe — and I think many would agree — that there’s just a certain feeling we experience when we encounter good art, when we know it’s good.


I’m talking about that feeling you get when you watch a movie, hear a song, read a book, see a painting, smell a perfume, taste a dish, touch a sculpture, or even witness a moment. That feeling that everything in your world is sinking, and while your normal reaction should be to try to swim up, your instinct is telling you to drown in whatever it is. That feeling when you know your whole life just changed, even if it’s a minor change, even if nobody else will ever know about it, even if it’s just for a second.

That’s good art.


Not only do I believe we are all capable of creating art — I believe we are all capable of creating good art. And that’s the beauty of art. Art can be anything. As lame as it sounds, beauty is everywhere; and although everybody wields a unique perspective, this is exactly what makes art so bountiful.

But art’s abundance may sometimes act as a road block. While it does inspire and provoke thought, there exists an extraordinary challenge to be original. Because of this, art and the pressure to create good art can overwhelm and distract.

Many people I’ve met in my adult life seem to have an irrational fear of creating something new and truly being original. I believe this is a result of that pressure, that overwhelming challenge of digging deep and producing something nobody’s ever seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted before. Because what if it sucks?

The EMP Museum in Seattle features a giant tree of instruments, comprised of guitars, keyboards, etc. previously played by famous musicians.

When I experience art I appreciate, I wonder what it is that makes it valuable. From where does that value originate? What makes this specific article or song or film resonate with me or any other person for that matter?

I ponder these same questions when I create art, but with a little more inward focus. What makes something I create valuable to me? — and — Does that value increase if my art affects other people in the same way? Or is my lone appreciation enough to make it significant?

I wonder this because, while there is plenty of art around us, there is a lot of art that remains private — or in this social and digital age, unshared.

I like to “judge” my own creations based on two criteria: a.) How does this help me? and b.) How does this help others?

Art is often an outward expression of our emotions, but it’s not limited to that. Creating art allows us to express our thoughts, fears, and desires — to almost literally throw our personalities onto a canvas or into a guitar riff. So, in the most basic sense of my first criterion, that is how it helps me (or whoever the creator may be). Art provides us an outlet for our inflated sadness, our temporary anger, our wishful thinking, our newfound happiness.

But good art eclipses whatever it means to the artist. Good art does a service for others, and while it may not mean the same thing or carry the same value for everyone, it not only serves as an outlet for the creator’s expression but for the audience’s as well. Good art provides us an outlet for our feelings and our genius. Good art resonates.

So, when an artist creates something important to him/herself and keeps it private, does it devalue that piece of art? I’ve created a lot of things over the years that are valuable to me, but I’ve hesitated to share some of them for whatever reason. Maybe it’s time I reconsider.


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