What Is Art?

An artwork is something created by a person for a purpose other than its material form or function. It conveys an idea or a feeling and can have meaning for the artist and the viewer as well. Art varies from a piece of decorative furniture to a photograph to a film, all with different functions and purposes. Art is a form of communication in which ideas are conveyed through shapes, symbols and colors rather than through words. It reflects the values and attitudes of every culture throughout history.

In early times, art was considered a craft to be learned through practice and training. As the Romantic era brought an emphasis on individualism, it became more about expression of personal emotions and experiences. Art began to be valued for its uniqueness and originality. Artists pushed the boundaries of what could be considered art, and a number of different styles and movements emerged.

Art is a way to grasp the world, not just the physical world that science attempts to do, but the whole world of society and human experience. It can be an exploration of the spiritual, or a protest against injustice, or a tool to educate. Art can be beautiful or ugly, meaningful or trivial, but it must communicate to evoke an emotional response in the viewer.

An important part of the function of an artwork is its iconography, a system of images that represent abstract ideas in concrete images. These are commonly used in religious paintings, but can also be found in art that is meant to be humorous or entertaining.

The art of the Baroque period is known for its drama and emotion-evoking visuals. It is characterized by rich, vivid colors and intense contrasts of light and shadow. Examples of this style include Caravaggio’s ‘The Calling of St Matthew’ and Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’.

Neo-Classicism is a style that arose in Europe after the Baroque period and is characterized by its simplicity, symmetry and grandeur. It is often a reaction against the excesses of the preceding art forms and can be seen in works such as Jacques-Louis David’s ‘The Death of Marat’.

Modernist art sought to create a new definition of what constitutes an artwork. In the beginning, this involved looking at what a work could symbolize and how it was made. It also included examining the role of an artist and what their background and motivations might be.

Art may serve a political purpose, as in the case of the political activism and social commentary of the early 20th century artists. Movements such as Dada, Surrealism and Russian constructivism were among those that tried to use visual art for social change.

How did the artist’s upbringing, beliefs and biases influence their creation of this work? What was happening in their life and the world at the time of creation? This can be determined by examining text panels on the backs of some artworks, where information about the artist is provided.