How do you describe something that is beautiful? How about well made? What if it is out of the ordinary? Is the description automatically synonymous with ‘art’? As abstract (pun completely intended) as it may be, how can and should art be defined? Art, in form, theory, and construct is always subjective.With that in mind, our goal with this article is to objectively determine the literal, syntactical value of the word ‘art’, or at least provide some food for thought.
Where it all begins
All too often the word ‘art’ is simply tagged onto something because it is deemed ‘high quality’ or even simply ‘different’. The word tends to be verbally slapped onto everything from paintings of elephants to food processors found on the Home Shopping Network when perhaps it should be reserved for the unique meaning that it holds.
What do we mean by this? Well, professional tennis players with fantastic backhands are deemed artists of the court. Trump’s first book, “his breakthrough memoir”, which was actually ghost written, was called The Art of the Deal. A woman I once had lunch with even told me that using chopsticks is an art. What about The Art of Living? You know what I’m talking about, you yogi (air punch).
When people use ‘art’ in these contexts, we understand what is being said: that a task has been taken to its limit in some way; that a person has worked at and perfected their occupation or hobby to an elite level. In order to complement that achievement, the ‘A’ word is whipped out.
She’s an artist with that rifle.
No, she’s a sharpshooter, an artist of her craft.
Define it for me
Naturally, ‘art’ is a word with an unambiguous meaning. However, interestingly enough, the word ‘art’ comes from the Latin tracture, meaning ‘to pull’ as in to pull meaning, which seems to be one of the best definitions there is. Is it then possible to extract a personal meaning from a great backhand?
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Essentially, like the transformation of many words, ‘art’ is another one that has been co-opted to mean a slew of things that it doesn’t in all actuality and for which other words perfectly describe. While they perform artistic sorts of activities, craftsmen, chefs, illustrators, blacksmiths, leathersmiths, tinkers, brewmeisters, and designers are actually all artisans.
The fault in our
This mislabeling lies in our collective misunderstanding, or, dare I say, ignorance of art. Year after year, less and less emphasis is placed on schools’ humanities, and specifically art, programs. Art appreciation, creation, and application are as quickly stricken from the curriculum as language programs, leaving students with more science, math, engineering, and technology, but an arguably disadvantaged ability to problem solve and think outside the box.
What I’m trying to get at is that words have meaning and we are the ones who give it life. Take ‘love’ for instance: squandering it on describing television shows or footwear might be better reserved for the intense warm feeling of attraction, need, and yearning all in one. Or maybe ‘hate’ could prove to be better exercised for the desire to destroy as opposed to criticizing kitten videos on YouTube.
All the same, ‘art’ is in there. If you use the word to describe a cool T-shirt, what do you have left when you come upon a work that transcends the ordinary? Maybe, someday you’ll be facing down a creation that you can’t fully understand, that mysteriously fills you with strong emotions or creates a narrative unique unto itself. When that day comes, don’t you want a word that can encompass that singular experience?
Again, food for thought, not necessarily words to live by.
For now, as Joseph Conrad once said: ‘Life is short, art is long.’