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Letter IV: Defining Art as a Personal Privilege

Dear Andrew,

Cezanne, Forest

To say that art has a “thingly” nature is troubling to me. Art is distinct from other experiences, but it is difficult to distinguish in its own nature. Art is nebulous. Its form is constantly changing. Like you said, “art creates that which did not exist previously”. Art physically transforms; like a spirit possessing a host, it keeps manifesting itself in new material forms, as determined by the artist. Beyond the physical, art’s intangible nature is mutable as well. That is, its effect on people varies. Art can serve a variety of purposes and can elicit a variety of effects on its receiver. So can we even apply a singular definition to something that is so changing in its own nature?

Furthermore, we have determined that art creates privileged moments. But what creates a privileged moment for one person, may fail to do so for another. You and I may be looking at the same creation, but you see art, and I do not. Which one of us is right? If a tree falls in the forest, but I do not hear it fall, did it still make a noise? I propose that “art” is that magical occurrence when the creation of the artist makes that privileged moment for the receiver. And thus, it can only be defined as “art” by that person experiencing it as such. That is, something can be art to one person, and not art to another person, all at the same time. And even though one person may not think something is “art”, that does not make it any less of “art” to another person.  Therefore, what is “art” is a wholly personal determination.

A concrete, universally accepted definition is impossible and inapplicable here. There is no reference for art. Nevertheless, we continue to seek a universal definition for art because we yearn for that external validation that what we experience is true. A definition would settle all debates and resolve all confusion and doubt. But where’s the fun in that?



For links to the first three letters in this series, click here.

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