what is your definition of art?

Yesterday, toward the end of Catherine and Graham’s visit, we sat on the couch, soaking up a little more conversation.

We love books, and keep a rotating collection on different shelves and tables around the house. Catherine found The ART Book, and flipped through it while we talked.

After more than a year living overseas, they have been to many European cities, and visited more than Graham’s share of museums and galleries.

Catherine is a phenomenal multi-media artist in her own right; this I knew, but I had no idea she was so knowledgeable about art and art history until we sat down with this book.

Several things came up in our conversation

  • I don’t know nearly as much as I would like to about art movements and styles, but I am drawn to some more than others (hello, Klimt)
  • on average, if I were going to look at a lot of it, I prefer three-dimensional artwork (sculpture, mixed media, textiles, etc.) to paintings
  • that said, there are so many different painting styles and techniques – see the first point
  • when we talk about Art, there is an over-emphasis on and over-representation of western art

If I make a point of it, I can surely learn more about art – styles, movements, techniques.  But this question of what counts as art intrigues me.

A couple of years ago, my brother made an extended trip to Indonesia.  For Christmas this year, he gifted Kristina and me with beautiful carved masks. These gifts are deeply personal, chosen just for us.

And even if they weren’t, the artistic merit of the masks would stand alone: the detail, the precision, the emotion revealed in the faces.

But I didn’t see much like that in The ART Book.

I didn’t see a lot of First Nations bead work, or hand-carved djembes (warrior drums) from West Africa, or Guatemalan textiles, or Japanese raku-glazed ceramics.  Some might argue that these are crafts, not art.

Seriously?  Is this the right distinction to make?

Are they crafts instead of art because they do not come from a long line of church-sponsored artistic tradition?  Because they use traditional iconography from other traditions?

Likely, I am betraying my own lack of knowledge on the subject.  Still, I know what I like.  And I call it art.

What do you like?  What graces the walls of your home?  What do you call art?


  • I loved your post. My family lived in Holland in the early 70’s, so I have inherited Antique Dutch, German, & Austrian oil paintings and lithographs from my parents (mostly from the 18th and 19th century). That is the art I grew up with.

    • Isn’t it wonderful how the art we grew up with feels like home? What a wonderful opportunity to live overseas as a young person and absorb other cultures as a matter of daily life. My daughter has been to many parts of Mexico, generally rural and/or coastal areas, but neither of us has been to Europe. YET.

      Thank you so much for your comments and your visit!

  • We finally broke down a couple of years ago and purchased an original painting. Up until then, we purchased prints rather than original paintings. We have been through our glass period but recently have purchased stone an metal art and find ourselves more attracted to non-painted art.
    I have also always liked the idea that “I don’t know if it is art but I know what I like”

    • Ed and I got engaged right before we moved into the remodel we had worked so hard on. I had been making regular payments on an original watercolour for six months at that point. Getting that framed, surprising him with it, and hanging it in our home was a celebration of our journey to that point. It’s not that I don’t like paintings, at all. I just shy away from this limited idea of what is art.

  • Nice! Sounds like you like Art Nouveau, I do too. 🙂
    Some people have noticed that the art/craft divide tends to run down gender lines; Nana’s sweaters are crafts, but Van Eyck’s paintings are art. There is a neat museum in Brooklyn next time you are in the neighbourhood: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/

    • It was really fun to sit down with you and page through the book. It was also really nice to have you near, warm and breathing, laughing and sharing witty facts.

      I love to think about “the next time I am in the neighbourhood” for sites in the NY Metropolitan area. Brooklyn is definitely on my list – thank you for museum recommendation. I’ll go!

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