Art Space: What is art? Diverse sources offer a variety of answers | July 10, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - July 10, 2009

Art Space: What is art? Diverse sources offer a variety of answers

by John A. Barry

My quest for an answer to the age-old question "What is art?" led me first to the Oxford English Dictionary. That tonnage of tome offers 16 definitions and sub-definitions, most of which emphasize skill.

For example: "the application of skill to subjects of taste, as poetry, music, dancing, the drama, oratory, literary composition and the like" (no specific mention of the visual arts).

Webster's online also focuses on the skill aspect. The Random House Unabridged gets to the visual: "works of art collectively, as sculptures, painting, or drawings." The OED and Random House mention the production of what is "beautiful"; the latter book notes "aesthetic principles and criteria."

So much for book learnin'. I headed off to a reception at Kevin Milligan's gallery on Hartz Avenue. I'd drawn the conclusion that here would be gathered artists and art lovers who could enlighten me.

Milligan, who at the time ran the only remaining gallery in Danville after the demise of several others, said simply that art is "freedom of expression."

A sample of other artistic assessments follows:

* "Art is anything that sells."

-The late Phil Hellsten, evoking the spirit of another sly iconoclastic artist, Andy ("Art is anything you can get away with") Warhol

* "Art is something somebody enjoys. It's a very personal thing. It has to do with subject, colors, scenery, whatever."

-Ed Lang, East Bay, reception visitor

* "Nobody knows."

-Yumiko Irsik, Danville, painter

* "A process in which the person creating it has feelings toward it and hopes that the people who are viewing it have feelings toward it too - hopefully positive ones."

-Melinda Kahler, Danville, painter

* "My wife's favorite subject."

-Gary Urani, Walnut Creek, reception visitor

* "An artist's passion for everyone to see and appreciate. The artist sharing what they love and enjoy with everyone."

-Francine Trengove, Sacramento, reception visitor

* "Art can be anything that evokes emotion from an individual, whether it's intended emotion or not."

-Ron Trengove, Francine's husband

* "Art is an expression of the way you see the world. A way to share your perceptions with other people. So is wine!"

-Reception bartender Bob Smith ("world's most common name, and that is my name, by the way"

* "Art is anything that is created by an individual. Anything they choose to create is art. It may be many different mediums."

-Chris Milligan, twin brother of Kevin

Because I posed the question at a visually oriented venue, answers that weren't general in nature tended to skew toward the visual.

Two responses specifically alluded to auditory, verbal, and performance media:

* "Art is an expression of the human spirit. It's usually visual, but it can be auditory."

-Fred Turner, Danville, poet and businessman

* "Art is a representation in visual, verbal, and performance media of a great idea.

-Bill Carmel, Danville, sculptor, painter

Stinted in the discussions was the lowly scribe. In an attempt to remedy that oversight, I went to Bob Eastwood, a poet and artist from San Ramon who moderates monthly meetings of local poets. He said: "Art is the product of the 'making' mind. But not simply so. The artist is not only a maker but also a creator of novelty. The process of creation in the making mind is one of synthesis, play and the resolution of abstract thought. It involves trial and error, revision and re-initiation. The artistic creation is a reach toward originality, something new, made from the craft of shaping experience, emotion, sensation, thought and ultimately risk. An artist's craft may involve tangible matter or language - such as sculpture or poetry - but the process of creating art is the same. The question of what makes for the quality of beauty in art is one of aesthetics - a separate question, and a more complex one."

I'm going with Warhol.

--John A. Barry is a writer and aspiring artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or e-mail