My professor showed up late on the first day of class. He walked in straight to the front of the room and asked “what is art?” It seems like such a simple question, but it was one I had never stopped to think about.
“Does something have to be beautiful to be considered art? Does it have to be timeless? Can something modern and non-traditional be considered art? Which of these two are art?” he asked directing our eyes toward the screen.
Dancers, dressed like dancers, crossed the floor moving gracefully upstage and down. Many of the women were balanced up on their toes which moved fiercely while the rest of their bodies gently swayed and spun. This was clearly dance, this was clearly art.
Cut to the next a video. Dancers, dressed like animals and jungle natives thrust about in the shadows. A woman turns slowly through the air – in a cage. She steps out the cage to join the dancers and they all move so quickly and boldly, in tight synchronization. They clump together in a group, their bodies all sweating as they move. There was a lot of dancing, but was this art?
Yep, Britney Spears’ 2001 VMA performance of I’m a Slave 4 U was the thing that forced me to begin seeking an understanding of what makes something art. Years later, I think I’ve discovered and answer, or at least a working definition:
Art is anything created to communicate something beyond itself.
So when Lindy paints a painting that stops and makes me think, that is art. When a Dancing With the Stars pro choreographs a routine to help a celebrity tell the story of the most memorable year of their life, that is art. When a musician writes a song to challenge my thinking, that is art.
But not all things beautiful are art, some are just performance or entertainment. To me, art must communicate.
What Art Communicates
I took another great course in college called Art and Ideas, taught by what seemed to be an aspiring musician trapped in the body of a bushy browed 73 year old concert pianist. The course walked us through art history through the lens of Mortimer Adler’s Six Great Ideas of truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, equality and, justice. These six ideas are categorized as those that we judge by and those that we act on and have become the things I look for when I’m asking if something has been created to communicate to me.
In turn, Lindy and I have focused ourselves to treat our home as a canvas for the art of family and like dancers on the stage, we’re working together to create something beautiful.
When people come into our home we want them to see beauty that makes them feel comfortable and welcome. When people interact with us we want them to feel valued. When our kids venture in to adulthood we want them to step out from a place of freedom to pursue justice and goodness in this world.
We want our home, our family, our lives to be beautiful and point to a hope that is beyond ourselves.
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