Tag Archives: definition of art

Beyond Words: Art’s Language

Art has a language which reaches across national and linguistic borders and transcends place and time. Artists use their art to speak of beauty and destruction, life and death, hope and despair, war and peace, anger and calm, fear and openness, love and forgiveness. The language uses colour, form, light, shade, composition and abstraction to communicate with many people on many different levels. At its best a piece of art carries within itself the ability to speak directly to each person who sees it.

The image the artist creates reflects who they are, what they see and how they see and react to it. It is both a conscious reflection of the world they live in and a reflection of unconscious and undefined thoughts and feelings which creep into the work unnoticed, to be recognised later. At its best it touches the heart, perhaps tickles the funny-bone, nudges the conscience, yields more meaning the closer you look.

Each artist develops their own variation on art’s common language and uses it to reflect their own way of seeing and understanding the world they live in. These variations take root in knowledge and grow through experimentation to flower into expressions of great individuality, some of which are uncommonly beautiful, all of which take on a life of their own.

The world the artist reflects is multi-textured, multilayered, full of multiple meanings. The reflection each artist creates echoes back those textures, layers and meanings filtered through their own eyes and mind. The eyes that see that work bring their own layers of meaning to it. It all comes together in an ongoing dance of intent and perception involving artist, image and audience.

The dance between artist and audience does not end with the artist’s death, but continues down the years as long as their creation is there for others’ eyes to see and other minds to comprehend.

Picasso’s Guernica – an image of multiple meanings.

Picasso’s Guernica: Some thoughts about it’s meaning, from the Treasures of the World Series on PBS.

Golden Boy Crop

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