Sample Definition Essay: "What is Art?"


The recent exhibition featuring a banana duct-taped to a wall, which sold for $120,000, sparked the age-old debate on the question "what is art?" The technical definition of art is an activity involving the creation of paintings, sculptures, or performances. However, people have agreed that not all paintings, sculptures, or performances may be considered art. As society progresses, the definition of art also evolves. In the 21 st century, the definition of art has become a point of contention. Ultimately, however, art is a form of communication that expresses the artist’s ideas. This definition essay will establish the definition of art as a form of communication of the artist’s ideas or emotions.

What is art? What are the various definitions of art?

Art takes on different forms. In ancient times, art was confined to artworks like paintings and sculptures. However, nowadays art has expanded to performance art, photography, prints, digital art, and even architecture. A common denominator between these types of art is that they require technical skill and express the creator’s ideas or emotions. Our appreciation of art, and for some their formal analysis of art, depends on their definition of art.

More commonly, art is considered a representation of reality or “mimesis ” ("The Definition Of Art"). Art may represent reality in a literal sense, as in realistic portraits, which is more common in the past. However, it is also possible for art to represent reality in a figurative sense, such as abstractions, which is more common nowadays. Art is also an expression of emotions or feelings ("The Definition Of Art"). In this case, art may demonstrate or capture an emotion or try to elicit an emotion or response from the object. Art may also be purely aesthetic, one that exemplifies the technical aspect of art. A piece of work, therefore, may be considered art when it meets at least one of the three categories.

Art that represents reality is perhaps the most popular form of art nowadays. There are a plethora of issues that artists tackle or raise awareness of through art. They replicate a reality that the audience may not be aware of, and in doing so, raise awareness and sympathy. Likewise, some artists prefer to explore the general human condition. In any case, mimesis type of art almost always has a message, goal, or purpose. This is quite similar to art that attempts to capture or evoke an emotion.

Art that attempts to capture or evoke emotion may use mimesis to connect or evoke a response from its audience. This type of art communicates a feeling that the audience may or may not be familiar with. Like mimesis art, this type of art may have a deeper purpose or point about the human condition.

It is quite difficult not to recognize beautiful works as a form of art. After all, these pieces also require technical skill and thought. Even though artworks that focus only on the aesthetic elements do not often have a political or social meaning, they still are not replete with meaning. As humans, we naturally seek visually pleasing things, so it is only natural for artists to want to replicate beauty in the world. This is its own goal—to show the audience beauty. To use the language used earlier to define art, this type of work communicates beauty.

One interesting thing about art, however, is that regardless of the artist’s intention, they can never have full control of the audience’s interpretation and reaction to their works. At best, art is an attempt to reach out and connect with the audience an idea or a feeling. This is ultimately what art is—an attempt to express and communicate an idea or a feeling. Different people have different definitions and expectations of art, but in its essence, art is not about the goal or purpose but the process. Thus, in summary, art is an attempt at communication and connection whether of something as simple as beauty, more complex sociopolitical issues, or the human experience.

In this definition essay, I have presented my definition of art. This definition is based on other art historians’ definitions of art. However, I am of the opinion that these definitions are more limiting. Art is subjective in many ways, as demonstrated in this essay. Thus, for me, art cannot be defined by subjective aspects such as aesthetics or meaning. One cannot simply say that works without socio-political or philosophical meanings or “make you think” are not art. Conversely, one cannot say that art that is not pleasing to the eyes or doesn’t follow formal art conventions is not art. As I mentioned in my thesis and expounded on in the body of this essay, the main essence of art is that it is a form of communication that uses a technical set of skills.

Work Cited

“The Definition Of Art.” Stanford Dictionary Of Philosophy, 18 Aug. 2018,

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