What is Art?

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his nature into his pictures.”
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), American clergyman.

There are a myriad of definitions of art. Almost all of them hit upon some part of what we feel is the truth; almost none seem to define art completely. Some discuss art in terms of technique or genre, and classify artists and their works according to a set of guidelines with which they are comfortable. Others define it in terms of intent; others declare artists to be distinguished from fellow workers by their mastery of the media they work in. Others define it as Beecher does by the ability of the artist to reveal his or her self to the world through their work. No definition seems to satisfy everyone; there is in art some feeling, some “thing”, which defies delineation.

It was a discussion of Robert Bateman’s work on CBC radio some time ago that started me thinking again about the contentious issue of how art is defined. On that program it was clear that each person who talked about his work had their own definitions and biases, some of them tenuous and some well formed and nurtured over years of being asked to describe and defend their own ideas. And that people simply did not agree, and that many of those who did not consider him a true artist seemed to feel that his depiction of realistic scenes and/or his decision to sell printed copies of his works disqualified him from being considered a “real artist”. Since all art , no matter how realistic it appears, is an abstraction from the reality it represents, the first argument seems based on a false premise. And it was difficult for me to understand the attempts to define someone as an artist (or not) according to the method they use to reproduce their work rather than the original work itself.

Listening to the discussion made me want to see for myself, to look again at the work of this artist. These days the internet makes easy what would have been difficult before. I visited his website knowing that I could explore his work at leisure there. I went to visit for a little while and stayed longer than I had planned. I found some familiar images and many, many more that I had not seen before. Images created with thought, care, knowledge and a mastery of technique and design which draw us in to his expression of his love of the natural world around him, his vision of its beauty and fragility. Work which seems to me to have been created by a man who meets many of the definitions of the artist I read, including that most difficult one given by Beecher above.

Here are links to two of my favorite paintings by him. Take a look and decide for yourself. I hope you enjoy them too.

Siberian Crane

Grizzly Face

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