What is Art? Why is Art Important?
What is art?
The dictionary definition of art says that it is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects” (Merriam-Webster)
But the thing about art is that it’s so diverse that there are as many ways to understand it as there are people. That’s why there are scholars who give their own special definition of the word, such the one penned by this famous Russian novelist, which goes:
“Art is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others” – Leo Tolstoy
During his life, Tolstoy was known to write based on his life experiences, such as his most famous work, “War and Peace” that used much of his experience during the Crimean War. And whether or not his definition of art is the best, the point is that people look at art based on how they have experienced it.
Great Art elicits powerful sentiments
Art can take the form of film, music, theatre, and pop culture, all of which aim to entertain and make people happy. But when films, songs, or plays are made for a specific audience or purpose, the art begins to diversify. Films, for example, can be made to spread awareness or cultural appreciation. Songs can also be composed in a way that they bring out certain emotions, give inspiration, or boost the morale of people.
During the Victorian period in England, women started to make a name for themselves with such classic artworks such as Elizabeth Sirani’s “Portia Wounding Her Thigh”, a painting that signifies the message that a woman is now willing to distance herself from gender biasedness.
The painting’s subject depicts an act of a woman possessing the same strength as that of a man. “Portia” represents surrender because she isn’t the same type of woman known in society as weak and prone to gossip. One of the revolutionary works in the history that ultimately opened the doors of arts to women in general, ultimately, showed the power of women in art
There are also works of art that illicit strong intellectual discourse – the kind that can question norms and change the behaviour of society. Sometimes, still, art is simply there to reach out to a person who shares the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences as the artist.
Why is Art Important?
Probably, the best theory that I like all which best explains – Why is art important – is from Van Jones, subtly provides a great response to What is art?
Van Jones presented a graph that accurately represents the interaction between the four aspects of society and its different members. Consequently, Vones depicts why is art important to our society?
Society is driven by the powerful elites, the dependent masses, government, cultural producers and artists
On the left you have action, and on the right, ideas; elites are at the top, and the masses are below. There’s an inside act and an outside act.
On the inside, there’s big money: elites are spending millions of dollars to influence politicians and policymakers. The inside act has the power to influence policy creators.
On the outside, we at grassroots set our expectations and needs, so that the elected candidates pass laws that give us power. Masses reflect what society really wants (heart)
The left side, “action,” often means quantifiable policy changes. The right side, “ideas,” can be harder to see. We are not necessarily talking about concrete things here, but rather, a “headspace.” Academic institutions and think tanks, which are not always involved in the immediate policy wins, are significant in creating a culture of thought
While the left side, “action”, continues to produce quantifiable policy changes and new laws, the right side “ïdeas”, can be hard to quantify its outcome. Although “head” talks theories and academics, it fails to produce any significant contribution to policymakers.
Artists come into the play here at this moment
Artists are represented here on the side of ideas, in the “heart space.”
Art is uniquely positioned to move people—inspiring us, inciting new questions and provoking curiosity, excitement, and outrage.