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Art has been defined within the harmonious collaboration between artist, artwork, and observer. However, this common way of defining art has begun to falter in modern times. People are generally sure that they have quite an accurate view in discriminating a flimsy result of some random action from a fine work of art. This ephemeral faith is of no use when we come across works of contemporary art. With the advent of modernism unconventional artists emerged, the boundary of art became blurred, and active observers started to express their views on art more aggressively. It is no longer possible to define art with simple glossaries. If this is so, how should art be defined? Or, can art even be defined?

A work of art is a representation of one’s intent or purpose. An artist creates their works based on their intention while depending on their educational background or inspiration. Even though one selects the process of artistic creation relying on spontaneity or an unplanned nature in realizing his or her artistic intent, one’s desire for creation is already inherent in the artistic 
act itself. That is, his or her artistic intention has already been manifested at the moment, the moment like when one single line is rendered on paper to create something. Thus, it is sensible to regard an artist with such an artistic intention as a departure point of any artistic deed, considering an artwork a manifestation of any artistic purpose. An artist’s involvement in creating artworks seems integral. The artist’s position becomes unprecedentedly solidified in defining art. Assertive artists seem to have gained privileges to raise any object to the level of art amid experimental, avant-garde ideas, as if experimenting with the limits of art.

An artist is thought of as the source of artwork but it was not so long ago that the artist was given prominence in art history. Artists began to become distinguished during the Renaissance. Prominent artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raffaello emerged, and their status was something different from previous artists. Artists were of little importance in creating artworks during the Middle Ages before the Renaissance. Treated as technicians or craftsmen, those artists remained tied by collective restraints as members of a guild. Art in the Middle Ages was subordinate to religion since artists could not express their individuality, their creativity was strictly excluded, and the 
clergy with political and social status was allowed to enjoy art. An icon that is a religious work of art created in the medieval period was not created obviously based on any artistic intent but simply produced for religious objectives. Like this, even the concepts of not only artists but also art and creative activity were not established. It was not until the Renaissance that new art styles emerged amid religious reformation and change in the economic system.

Examples of icon paintings: Madonna and Child on the left, The Christ Pantocrator (Sinai) on the right.


Art has become more liberal as many restrictions were removed with the advent of modernism. Art today is no longer wedded to any specific interpretation of beauty and is free from any physical limitations. Although art seeks more freedom in its form, the fact that an artwork is something painted or made has barely changed. The artist’s creative desire has lost its purity in the process of becoming something manifested through an artist's purpose or an observer’s interpretation. If an observer intervenes in artwork in a deeper way, the artist pursues the more beautiful or the more eye-catching while dragging art to an impure state. Fine art is the term referring to the pure state of

What can be interpreted as art by us as an observer? An aesthetic experience is referred to as a process of embracing and relishing works of art. That is, it is an experience of exploring the beauty. Any aesthetic experience per se is universal even though the objects of such beauty or the intensity of such experience vary. What we feel is beautiful (a young woman’s beautiful body or the earth tinged in blue) is often anchored in some biological advantage or benefit, if seen from the evolutionary point of view. If seen from another viewpoint, beauty is an empirical or social commitment. And, a work of art has been deemed as integration of beauty. Every work of art does not have to be beautiful in the conventional sense. The ugly or the provocative at times can be the objects of aesthetic experience. There may be some guidelines in defining beauty such as golden ratio, color combinations, and structural equipment. All the same, an aesthetic experience itself has no specific criteria as it is subjective.

Art is often thought of as the product of human desire. Discovered even in the images of hands in the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) dating back to 40,000 years ago are also the desire to represent oneself, the desire to communicate with others, and the desire to be remembered. Art is either a means of achieving creative desire or practice of converting images and inspiration in an artist’s mind into physical forms. Difference between artistic intention (or creative desire) and produced artwork is thus inevitable. The gap between the two is predestined, just as an actual object can never be the same as its perception in one’s brain. And yet, artists are often identified with their artwork as it is deeply imbued with their intent. The artwork is often deemed something subordinate to an artist or inseparable from its creator. All the same, an artwork is not something affiliated to an artist but an indirect manifestation of an artist’s purpose. You are able to hear an artist’s voice both as an observer and an interpreter but the message conveyed by his or her voice has to be interpreted and couched in your own idioms. An observer’s intervention works as a factor to widen the gap between the artist’s purpose and his or her artwork in this process of interpretation and description.


Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas. (declared as a Unesco “World Heritage Site” in 1999)

If so, can medieval paintings so wed to monotonous painterly idioms and standardized subject matter be referred to as artworks? Of course, it is possible to gain aesthetic experience through medieval paintings; however, can we say that what an observer feels in works of art excluding artistic intent and creativity is a true aesthetic experience? Obviously, artworks in the Middle Ages were produced in a state in which the concept of art had not yet been established. Nevertheless, an observer who is the subject of interpreting or experiencing artworks comes across past works of art at a point of time when the concept of art has already been established, transcending space and time. That is, the observer cannot intervene in the process of creating artworks but his or her role in defining art should also be considered. Therefore, the observer actively joins any aesthetic experience as an evaluative artist, not as a creative But, it is also another form of measure to restrict the purity of art and does not contribute to recovering its purity.

There is no right answer to questions about art. There may be countless definitions of art and as many as its observers (respondents). There is no right answer among them as a matter of course. If there is no right answer to questions concerning art, there is no wrong answer and those answers are merely different. Art was not initially set up under some absolute criteria. Art has not defined itself just as the sky has not defined itself as blue. Art has never represented itself as a work of art, simply implying human involvement.

Art has been considered the preserve of humanity since both artistic activity and aesthetic experience are such humane actions. Humans have brought art in isolation to a place close to them in order to achieve it. Therefore, we have to return to ourselves rather than finding the right answer in art itself.

For long periods of time, humans have considered any artistic experience as a privilege granted to them. And, art has shared its rise and fall with humankind, profoundly influenced by human history and society. Art has been defined or limited in this process for the sake of humanity’s convenience. We have to remove or at least minimize humanity’s intervention in 
to bring art back to its pure state. If so, can we define art with no artist, artistic intent, or observer’s involvement as something veritable? In addition, can art maintain its life in a lonely state with no creator or interpreter?















Berlinghiero (possibly 1230s). Madonna and Child. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Retrieved from


Anonymous (6th century). Christ Pantocrator. Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai. Retrieved from


Cueva de las Manos. Río Pinturas. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved from






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