Beth Markel

What is Art?

Posted on October 19, 2013 by Beth Markel

I’ve been involved in numerous discussions in the past couple of weeks, all involving the question, “What is art?”  For some the answer is simply, “Whatever I like, framed, and hung on a wall.”  For others it encompasses music, theatre, symphony concerts, performance arts, graffiti, sculpture, and the beauty of nature.  The human form.  For others still, it discounts graffiti or anything of a ‘controversial’ nature, and focuses of what others tell them is art.  And finally, others still who think whatever crayon, watercolor, or stick figure their child has drawn this week is simply a masterpiece, and yes, I quite happily fell into THAT camp when my kids were little!  If you want to have a lively discussion at your next dinner party, evening out with friends, or sit-n-stitch, ask everybody at the table, “What is art?” and watch the chaos ensue.

Art is subjective.

Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Art moves you.

Art speaks to your spirit.

Art ignites your creativity.

Art is expressive.

Art causes dialogue.

Art is universal.

Art is offensive.

Art is lively.

Art is evocative.

Art is joyful.

Art is suffering.

 I remember when the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit was opening years ago, and some in the Cincinnati community were outraged at his nudes, because it was ‘offensive’ and ‘vulgar’ to photograph people/the human body, the way he did.  His images were striking, bold Black/Whites, and quite haunting.  Some people loved it, some thought the gallery should be boycotted.  Who is right?  Both?  Neither?

 More recently, the November AQS magazine published Jacquie Gering’s beautiful and bold, graphic quilts, 2 of which depict guns/gun-violence.  It took guts on the part of the editor to publish those images, as I’m sure many AQS members and readers are ‘traditional’ quilters who were potentially offended.  Some in the traditional quilt community will never embrace art quilts.  Some in the art quilt community will never return to ‘traditional’ patterns or techniques because they feel it stifles their creativity.  Some in the modern quilt movement disdain traditional patterns.  Who is right?  Both?  Neither?  All?  None?

 There are no conclusions to this question.  Only more questions…which may lead to dialogue…which may lead to understanding…and yet more dialogue.

“What is art?”  Each of us must decide for ourselves.  And when we have decided what we think art is…we might need to start over and examine why we think that…because the definition is constantly evolving.  Discover your own voice.  Sing your own song.

Be inspired,






Liz Lystra on November 26, 2013

I just found your blog, like your work and your writing. Next dinner party will be asking "What is art?" and I was intriqued... always hated green but learning to like some ... like citron.

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