What Is Art?


I asked my students, “What is art?”

This wasn’t a question I thought we’d answer satisfactorily. I don’t teach art anyway. I teach ESL. But the chapter in our reading textbook was on art.

My students are not artists. Most of them have never been to an art museum or gallery. They don’t know any artists. A few of them have never bought any art nor do they hang any art on the walls of their apartments. It’s interesting to get the perspective of individuals who don’t think much about art.

Several students could not get past the prices for certain works of art. They focused on famous works of art that have sold for 40 million dollars and more. I found it difficult to get them stop thinking about the money. The art business is different than the art.

One student said he didn’t think anyone would go through the trouble to make anything if he wasn’t going to be paid for it. Another student tried to explain passion.

A few students liked the Jackson Pollock painting I showed them, but the majority were baffled at best. How was it art to splash paint around and not have it look like anything?


How would you answer that?

What kind of art do you like? What is art?

6 thoughts on “What Is Art?

  1. I’d define art as something created that the eye finds attractive though that’s pretty trite. I’m afraid my kind of art is what you’d call the traditional kind, the old masters, where you can see what it’s intended to represent and eye with brain coordination understands it.
    No doubt I’d be called a philistine but I never cared for the Van Gogh school or the Impressionists very much and I dislike Picasso and his ilk while liking L.S.Lowrie, I do find it more pleasing to have people represented in a picture than just a pastoral scene or a seascape.
    We’re all different fortunately or we’d never create more artists and variety of art whether I care for them or not.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx.

    1. Yes! Thank goodness for difference. I know some people don’t like my art, so I’m glad for the different opinions.

      For a while I worked in a shop that sold prints. I would despair at people who wanted me to tell them what picture to buy. Buy what you like! Who cares what trend setters or critics or whoever say. You should like what is on your wall.

  2. I have exactly one creative-writing course in my history, my sophomore year in college. At some point, the instructor asked us to define poetry. Now, I was already feeling a bit irritable because the students who did most of the talking in this class were, well, poseurs. (Not that they didn’t have actual talent. But they seemed more concerted with maintaining a facade of intellectualism than with actually, y’know, expressing or developing their talent.)

    Anyway, one guy spoke up. This was in the early ’70s, you understand, and he was dressed in a dashiki, and he very confidently asserted: “I think ANYTHING is a poem.”

    I stared at him, goggle-eyed, from across the circle of chairs the instructor had arranged us in. “Anything?” I said. “Anything?”


    “This chair is a poem?”


    “A nuclear explosion?”


    “The Holocaust?”

    Anything. It’s all poetry, man.”

    That drove me crazy. Or, well, drives me crazy.

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