Definitions of Art

Chomsky has posited, though he admits it is a minority opinion so far, that language is not primarily about communication, but evolved as a means of organizing thinking. He points out that 95% of language use is internal and that there is evidence that language is used in the subconscious mind as well. Communication via language is a side-effect. When I first heard this I thought that this squares with my experience of art making. I have never been comfortable with the idea that art is a means of communicating, an idea that was first pushed to allow for the use of communication theory in analysis of art. It has become a much repeated truism and a stifling and counter-productive standard that favors what we used to call “contrived” work, work that is “all figured out” before fabrication has commenced.
Art is first and most importantly a means of organizing one’s thinking, of trying out ideas and seeing if they fly or plummet. It differs from language, perhaps, in the areas of thought it favors, visual, three-dimensional and process oriented ideas.
This doesn’t really constitute a definition since a definition needs to exclude things that do not fit as well as include things that do, but it is a first pass at liberating art from the hands of propagandists and outsiders, i.e. non-artists.
Art is the free play of ideas without expectation or requirement.


That’s really interesting!

That idea certainly fits with my own experience. There’s a kind of “extrovert’s bias” that seems to push everything into the realm of the social. For example, this common Orwellian notion that if the State can eliminate certain language, it can also head off the corresponding thought. I am constantly having thoughts that don’t associate themselves with any sort of language, it’s only when I want to communicate these thoughts to others, that the difficulty of ‘englishing’ the thoughts comes into play.

I have frequently found a kind of loose, poetic, almost schizophrenic-sounding language is more appropriate to describe my experiences… and trying to get another person to relate to these notions the way I do, is far more effort than it’s worth, even if it were possible.

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I like this perspective too. It resonates a bit with some thoughts that I’ve had when trying to imagine what music is about. Particularly in light of the fact that music is an art form that doesn’t have a clear representational precedent basis, (some composers like Messiaen (I think it was), have speculated that birds have some prior art claim here, but aside from that…). Perhaps music (with parallels to language in adherence to syntactical rules) - is about creating abstracted temporal processes in us. Playing with - so to speak - the fundamental apparatus of tracking causal chains that our neural networks are adept at correlating out of the chaos of of the environment. Acoustical harmonies and dissonances have clear physical meanings, in terms of events occurring with materials - but the higher order structures of music could be sort of temporal-sculptural works whose material is the perceptive apparatus itself.

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I have long considered the artistic impulse to spring from the drive to improve one’s environment working in conjunction with the drive to communicate our inner world to the outer world. And as I am much more inclined toward interior design than oil painting, I have always referred to my [re]decoration efforts as ‘painting the cave walls’.

I consider external constraints to be one of the key things that separates art from design, and your framing feels like a better way to say that.

My version is that if you get to fill an empty canvas with what you think looks cool, that is art. If you have to incorporate a half dozen phone numbers and three retail locations, but still make it look cool, that’s design. And if you can make it look like you actually needed those six phone numbers and three street addresses to make the design work, congratulations, you’re getting the hang of it.

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