There is a long standing and ongoing debate revolving around the question of “What is art?” Usually, any discussion on this subject maintains the assumption that “art” is somehow a creative process or the product of creativity. I think this is missing the mark.
All forms of art are communication. For any communication to happen, there must be a “speaker” and a “listener.” Within the visual arts, the speaker is the artist who creates the work. The listener is the viewer who responds to the work.
But, what if one person responds to a piece and another doesn’t? Does that mean that the art has failed, or that the second person is flawed? No, it is simply that the second viewer does not recognize the language of that work.
Each piece of art, just as every sentence on this page, is made of symbols. Everyone has the ability to understand some symbols and not others, sometimes depending on the arrangement. I do not speak French, so anything written in that language means nothing to me, no matter how beautiful the phrases may be to someone in France. And, I can balance a checkbook, but certainly cannot begin to decipher the intricacies of higher mathematics like John Nash, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work in game theory.
Exactly what any art communicates can only be answered by the person experiencing the art. That communication is influenced by cultural differences, by exposure to varied art forms, and by individual preferences. It is very personal. We like what we know. We understand what we have been exposed to.
This is why so many great artists have not been recognized while they were alive. Van Gogh and Renoir were ridiculed by the people of their time, but are much loved now. It took time for the people, the “listeners,” to learn the languages of their art.
So, how do you go about choosing just that right piece of art for your home, one you can live with and enjoy year after year? It is easy. Find one makes you go “Oh, yes!!!” That’s the piece that is speaking your language.