AHTR – The Definition of Art


In the beginning, AHTR was founded as a place to share successes and failures in teaching art history between peers. As we move into the future, we’d like to continue that tradition by reviving the AHTR Weekly, where teachers will have the opportunity to share their best ideas for teaching art history in the classroom.

Art is not just any sort of human activity; it’s a specific way of grasping the world, not only the physical world that science attempts to explain, but the whole world of human society and spiritual experience. It’s not easy to define art in terms of its function, but it’s possible to discuss some general features that are important.

Any human creation that is aimed at evoking certain emotions and ideas in its viewers can be considered art. Such creative works must have a genuineness and clarity of meaning, however, in order to qualify as art. The term “art” has also been used in reference to particular types of creative works, such as painting, sculpture, music and architecture.

One of the most influential definitions of art was established in the nineteenth century by the German philosopher Arthur Schjeldahl. His definition emphasized that art was that which the institution of art (artists, critics and other members of the community of people who viewed and appreciated art) was prepared to regard as such. This definition of art as that which the broader community of humans is prepared to acknowledge and appreciate was later expanded to include any work that demonstrates a high level of artistic skill.

Other definitions of art are more mystical, and they seek to define it as something that is beyond mere material goods. This metaphysical definition of art was most popular in the twentieth century, with the rise of movements such as cubism and abstract expressionism.

The concept of art has also been defined as a means of expressing a fundamental human instinct for harmony and balance, or beauty. This concept of art is also seen as an aspect of being human that goes beyond a sense of utility, and is something that can be innately understood by all humans.

It has also been argued that art is a way of connecting with other human beings, both on an emotional and philosophical level. Certainly, works of art can communicate to a viewer a wide variety of emotions, including sadness, fear, love and anger. Art can even be a tool for political change, as when Pablo Picasso and his colleagues used their art to express anti-Fascist sentiments in the aftermath of World War II.

When teaching art, it can be useful to encourage students to look closely at a piece of artwork and notice the details that might make it special. For example, ask them to consider how a painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware is framed by other surrounding features, such as soldiers, ice and the flag. You could also ask students to think about symbolism, as well as the amount of light or dark that is present in a painting. All of these features can help to convey certain messages about the artist, or about a historical event that is depicted in the work.