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What's The Use Of Art? - Part 2

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

What is Art? - Part II...

In Part I, considering the question, 'How do we determine what makes art valuable?', I suggested that we go 'back in time' a bit, and examine the question from a historical perspective.

In fact, prior to the 17th century, there was really no distinction between arts and ‘crafts’, nor any perceived difference between an artist or an 'artisan' (ie., 'craftsman'). As it was then, what we now think of as 'art' was considered to be, simply, creations of superior workmanship or composition, generally with a utilitarian purpose, either religious, decorative, or entertaining in nature.

By the early 18th century, though, we begin to see the concept of art purposed as something beautiful, as opposed to something utilitarian. This change in attitude was brought about, to a large degree, by the practice among the aristocratic world, in an effort to enhance their own stature, of engaging the services of the most notable painters, sculptors, and composers of the day. Virtually all of the artistic geniuses we admire today (Beethoven, Mozart, Titian, Rembrandt, and so on) were supported largely by the wealthy aristocracy and/or the Catholic Church. The veneration of the of the true artist was then at its apex, but with a notion of 'skillfulness' in the service of 'beauty', rather than as something 'useful'.

Particularly during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the notion of the artist being 'above' the artisan began to take hold. Now, the aristocratic sector was no longer the only denizen of the wealthy. With the appearance of a moneyed 'middle class', coupled with the notion of intellectualism and the 'Avant Garde' (which had been fostered during the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries), the imaginative creativity of the artist began to be considered of greater importance, compared to the actual utilitarian 'skillfulness' of the 'artisan'. As such, the artist, for the first time ever, began to take on a role as ‘social prophet’. Thus, for example, the art of the Impressionists (as opposed to the Realists) began to be more accepted (although, even so, it's interesting that Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime!). By the 20th century, though, the stage was set for the birth of what has come to be known as Modern Art, as artists continued to experiment with non-traditional materials, shapes, and forms. Now, the notion of beauty no longer needed to be tied to ‘skillful representation’ of visual imagery. Stay tuned for more...

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