Why art? What is art? The naked and thought-provoking truth!

What is art?

If you want to have some fun, ask different artists this question:

What is art?

Example: Is this light ray photograph below, ‘art’? Answer later…

Platform Art In Studio

The dictionary defines “Art” as “the expression, or application, of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

As my sister used to say in high school, “Gag me with a spoon!” I must agree with her 16 year-old expression because canned responses and definitions fly in the face of what real ‘art’ is (IMHO – in my humble opinion). Now, I create some unusual ‘art’- light sculptures, light ray photographs, and even painting with sand, ocean water and beach detritus in my Marco Island Organic Series.

But then the dictionary adds this, my favorite phrase: “…of more than ordinary significance.”

Perhaps “unusual” is NOT the best adjective required for defining art. Perhaps “…of more than ordinary significance” does. Because it solves a problem.

So, do the digital prints that people produce of cardinals or blue jays, sitting on snow-covered northern Wisconsin pine boughs, count as ‘art’?

Is a guy spray painting boxcars an ‘artist’? Is the photograph of a tomato can, ‘art’?

What Zak tries to do with his amazing digital abstract art is easy to “get” when you see it. What I attempt to do with my light sculptures is obvious upon viewing.

Quantum art

I am going to take a leap and say that there is a huge similarity between quantum physics light theory and the meaning of art.

Maybe a walk is a better idea than a leap. I am huge into light art, so this journey is a bit familiar to me. Here we go: Do you know exactly what “light” is? Quantum physics has investigated and researched light for decades, and they still are not sure what the hell it is. science is not comfortable when it cannot define something clearly and distinctively. I know, because I was a science major in college.

To cut to the chase in our leap/walk/journey: Science has decided that light is a particle. No, it is a wave!

A particle! A wave! A particle! A wave!

Boom! – Tiebreaker! Light is BOTH a wave and a particle – but NOT at the same time for the same person.


Light is a particle if a human sees a particle. Light is a wave if a person perceives a wave.


How does this relate to the question, “What is ‘art’?”

Simple: If something created calling itself “art” moves you, it is art.

If something created calling itself “art” does not move you, it is not art.

For you.

This makes art extremely subjective – personal.

Is that frustrating for you? Do you HAVE TO have a hammered steel definition of everything?

Can you live with this flexible notion that whether something is art or not is up to you?

A person now and then has looked at my or Zak’s abstract art paintings saying, “I don’t get it.”

My response? “Then it is not for you.”

A short story

Here is an interesting relevant story. Zak and I were creating a show in an Oshkosh Gallery. I sorted out my art into what was going to the show and what was not. Two of my Marco Island Organic Series pieces were leaning at the “leave it here” wall. Zak said, ”You aren’t taking those two – why not?”

“I don’t like them, and don’t think they will sell.”

He talked me into taking them. We hung 40 paintings for that show.

I sold two pieces. Guess which two?

You have heard the expression, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

Nowhere is it truer than in the area of art.


So, is that photograph at the top art?

What do you think?

May I tell you what it is?

It is actually light rays spilling over onto the floor from a Light Sculpture I had just created. You are looking at my workshop floor – a basement floor – hardly a beautiful canvas. Normally, if you purchased a Light Ray Photograph, that is what you would buy – a beautiful/interesting closeup of a background piece of a Light Sculpture. Which is what this is! BUT: It is on the floor. It is not developed onto a HD matte aluminum medium, all nicely framed and ready to hang. No, it is a piece of a studio floor.

Is it still art? I created it, and I am an artist, but is it ‘art’ lying on the concrete floor?

If YOU think it is ‘art’ and are moved by i, it is!

I am not going to stop you from liking it – being engaged by it.

But I also am not sawing out a chunk of my concrete floor for you – lol

So, where does that leave us? An artist is moved to create something. You are moved seeing it. THAT is a link, a transaction between you and the artist. THAT is the “art.”

What if you are not “moved”?

Well, let me put it this way. If I am a car salesman and get you excited enough to buy a car, we have a completed circle of transaction that we are both moved by.

If I am a car salesman and you walk out without appreciating my offer enough to, at least, WANT to buy it, we do not have a transaction, do we? There is no sale, no salesman, no buyer.

What can we draw from this? [Do not be confused by the selling part in the cited scenario – $$ exchange is not the factor here.] It is the transaction of emotions on both sides that creates a “sale.”

If I am excited enough to create a piece (painting/sculpture/etc), and you are moved by it also, we have “art” – some say even if you are disgusted by the piece we have “art” because you are moved. It is not always a positive emotional transaction.

When my stepfather told a joke his goal was not laughter…he wanted to see you groan and even roll your eyes. If he made that happen he felt he had accomplished a coup…and would laugh and laugh. He WANTED the listener to groan.

Some artists want to arouse you to FEEL something – anything. They don’t care if you buy or not. Just feel something when you see their creation. That transaction of feeling between you and the artist is the “art.”

Here is my goal with Light Sculptures and their child, the Light Ray Photograph:
“When in ‘mode’ of creation, I want to manifest an entire environment and arousal of emotion for the viewer to walk into. I want my art to punch him or her right in the gut. Preferably pleasantly.”

If I don’t I have failed with that person. But if in the next viewer I do…

Well, pop a cork, Baby!!!! lol


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Here is a followup article in the Atlantic you might find interesting if you are a serious student of this question.

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