What Qualifies as Art?

October: the month of creativity and all things creepy. To celebrate this year’s Halloween on my blog, I opted to ask what qualifies as art. I mean, yeah, we have storytelling, paintings, and music. But could we say the same about cooking or sports? And if so, what makes them more artistic than science or politics? Well, the best way to answer the question in the title is to take a look at what we know about art and go from there, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do this month.

Art is: A Means of Self-Expression

Most artists will tell you that they create because they want to. But for other writers, this is a completely different story. One of the reasons we love writers like Stephen King and JK Rowling is because they found clever ways to express—through fiction—what they’ve been through and what they think about the world around them. In the blog post “Why We Make Art,” film director Pete Doctor explains “there is that universal desire to connect with other people in some way, to tell them about myself or my experiences…we talk about ourselves, our feelings, and what it is to be human.” For these people and more, art is a coping mechanism. We create because, in a chaotic world filled with injustice and tragedy, art is all we have.

But in some cases, you have to wonder what some artists are trying to express—or even if they’re expressing anything at all. So while this might apply to some, it doesn’t quite apply to others. So what else can art be?

Art is: A Teaching Mechanism

For many who call themselves artists, this is the case. Fairy tales can teach the rewards of kindness, love songs can teach the ups and downs of romance, and Taco Bell can teach what Mexican food doesn’t taste like. Some teachers will even use various art forms as tools to help their students learn the material easier than in a lecture, like the alphabet song or Sesame Street.

Not surprisingly, using art solely as a teaching mechanism can come off as either pretentious or unrealistic (*cough* Focus on the Family *cough*). And on top of that, this quality might apply to some art forms, but not to others. Which brings us to our third possibility…

Art is: An Experience

A lot of art forms are famous for engaging the senses and/or soul, creating a mysterious but amazing experience for both audience and artist. Music engages hearing, cooking engages taste and smell, visual art engages sight, and physical activities engage the entire body. And even if the art doesn’t apply to your senses, it almost always applies to the soul. If it inspires you, makes you feel alive, or touches you in some way that you can’t explain, you can assume that it’s a form of art.

Yet, as in the cases of the two previous qualities we explored, this might not apply to all forms of art. Not all food stimulates the nose, nor do all fairy tales breathe life into readers.


So maybe there’s no one sure-fire way to define art. But maybe this is what’s so great about it. It’s one of the world’s greatest mysteries that we mere mortals can neither grasp nor define. There isn’t one solid definition of what constitutes as art, and even good art has a variety of formulas and recipes that we still haven’t fully explored. As the song “Some Enchanted Evening” goes, “Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.” Whatever the case, even if we can’t explain art, we can still enjoy it for the beautiful, intangible mystery that it is.

Photo source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/436145545140657779/

Sources used: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_we_make_art

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