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Raven Shaw

What is art?

My own best definition of art is that it’s a conversation between the older part of our brain that was shaped by biological evolution and the younger part in the front that was shaped by social evolution. Then your blind, fumbling hands try to bang out a physical product based on this game of telephone between the unconscious and the conscious. The physical product is then a way for the creator’s unconscious mind to communicate with the consumer’s unconscious mind — it reminds me of the backwards way our cells produce proteins from DNA instructions.

What I found online:

Art is described as the various acts of creation, such as painting or sculpting, that a person can use to express their internal thoughts. Art is also described as making something pleasing to the eye, but I think some people wouldn’t want to call any of the prints at Walmart ‘art.’ Those two descriptions suppose that art is an ‘act of doing’ or a finished object. I don’t think either is very accurate. Plenty of people can pick up a lump of clay and express their inner thoughts, but few people are any good at it. Art is meant arrest your attention and provoke emotional response, not just look good over your couch.

I think the definition of art is hidden in phrases like “raise ____ to an artform,’ or “The Art of War.’ These phrases point out that art isn’t just the individual action or results, it’s time and dedication to getting better at your specific mode of creation. Strumming your bow across your violin one hundred times before the sound you make catches and resonates perfectly in the heart of your listener. Each finished product may as well be a petal falling from the outer layer of a lotus as the flower continually unfurls.

What is art history? Why do we study the history of art? How does it help us understand the world in which we live?

Art history looks like a timeline of individual artists that have stood out, or at least have not been stamped out – leaving behind evidence of how we are basically the same creatures we have always been. It is easy to understand past cultures by looking at their art because we care about the same things they did, and we understand beauty like we can understand a smile in any language. Seeing ourselves mirrored in the past is weirdly inspiring instead of disheartening – art history is a torch-relay that we are all still taking part in. Like an individual artist that spends his life honing his craft in pursuit of perfection, the collective We are doing the same — passing the torch to the future inspired artists.

I think that when we take a look at art history and understand that we are basically as we have always been, it takes the pressure off of feeling like we have to get something right the first time we try it. It’s easier to make a painting if you can accept that it’s only one in an endless timeline. That your next will be better, and the next after that.