Art has been a central part of civilizations for millennia. It is not just a form of entertainment or design; it can help to understand the world and ourselves. Art has a complex range of functions, from recording and sharing cultural myths to conveying ideas that transcend language. It can inspire or reflect change in politics and morality, and it can bridge disparate communities. It can even cause health benefits in people who engage with it, according to research that found a link between art and wellbeing.
The most fundamental function of art is to share experiences and feelings. It can be done with pictures, music, sculptures or words, but it is most often accomplished with visual images. These can be as simple as a drawing of a smile or as complex as the Mona Lisa or Van Goh’s swirling sky in The Starry Night. The images can be a record of a moment, a particular style or movement, or an expression of the imagination.
For most artists, making art is more than just a creative process; it is a spiritual or emotional journey. They spend much of their time observing the world around them, thinking about people, politics, nature, religion and more. Artists also spend a lot of time contemplating their work, trying to figure out what it means or how best to communicate the message in some way.
Ultimately, it is the audience’s experience of art that defines its value and meaning. It could be a simple pleasure in seeing something beautiful, or the desire to understand the ideas behind the work. It may be a connection to a specific piece, or to an entire collection of artworks in a museum. It could also be the feeling of being infected by the artist’s feelings.
These feelings may be the fear of death, as depicted in a statue of a mummy, or the desire for pleasure, as represented by a beautiful landscape. They can also be the sense of devotion to a god or self-devotion, as conveyed in a drama or opera, or awe at the power and beauty of nature, which is expressed through a painting.
In the modern era, the concept of what constitutes “art” has been increasingly blurred. Increasingly, many works of art are commodified as consumer products, and the quality of art is judged by the amount of money it brings in or the number of views on an internet video. This commodification has led to a decline in the prestige of the art world, and it can create tension between those who make and buy art.
Some philosophers argue that the notion of what is art is arbitrary and unchanging, and that any object can be considered art if it is seen by an appropriate audience. This view reduces the distinction between art and design, and it is based on a misunderstanding of the history of art and its function. However, other writers, such as feminists, assert that the quality of an object is based on aspects of its gendered, demographic and socio-economic contexts.