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What is art?

David, Khan Academy’s humanities fellow, and May-Li, a designer at Khan Academy, talk about why people make art and how art can be appreciated by anyone.

Want to join the conversation?

  • female robot grace style avatar for user Anna
    I write a lot because I love writing, especially sci fi. And I knit because I love knitting. Sometimes I discover a new way to do something like I did with short rows.

    Are writing and knitting both art?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Valentin Iseli
      For me art is anything that opens up a new perspective for me. I am a designer. If it makes you think a new thought, it's art. It's subjective. Concluding: yes, both knitting and writing can be art, if it offers you a new perspective. I think it is only art, if it reaches the people otherwise its not art in their eyes.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user agonzalez0223
    Art is cool and says a lot about an individual or society it effortlessly tries to portray to the audience.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

- [David] Hello, Mai-Li. - [Mai-Li] Hi, David. - [David] So, Mai-Li, you are a designer. - [Mai-Li] I am. - [David] And a designer is a kind of artist. - [Mai-Li] I suppose it is. - [David] And that is why I have brought you here with me today, to talk about what art is. - [Mai-Li] Ooh, my goodness, fascinating, okay. - [David] So, okay, so as you see, I have littered the screen with many different varieties of art. So I would like to make the argument, and you tell me if you agree, that anything can be art. - [Mai-Li] Hmm. - [David] That anything that is made in any medium, as long as it expresses something, can be art. But maybe first we should get into definitions. I would say that art fundamentally expresses something. - [Mai-Li] Right, so, what is it that the artist is trying to convey? What is it they might be feeling? Any of those types of things, qualifies as expression. - [David] Feeling, an idea, or even is it just an image? - [Mai-Li] Mm-hmm, yeah, one of the fantastic things about it is that art is something that is participatory, so the viewer's reaction is as much a part of the art as the art itself. - [David] What do you mean by that? - [Mai-Li] So if you look at, for example, the Dorothea Lange photograph, and you have a feeling about it, and you're like, "Wow, look at that mom. "She looks kinda hard-up, maybe a little sad." All of the kind of emotion that you get from looking at it, is part of the experience of the art. - [David] Sure. - [Mai-Li] So the art, one, is sitting there by itself not being experienced by anybody isn't quite the same as it is when there's actually the viewer's participation. That's one of the lovely things about art, is that different people have different reactions, and that's totally okay. - [David] So when I look at a piece of art, you're saying I'm helping to make that art exist? - [Mai-Li] Yeah, I would say so. - [David] That's really cool. So you can see that Mai-Li and I have arranged a bunch of different kinds of art around the screen. And all of these art are produced by the use of different media, which is the plural of medium. But what does that mean in this context, Mai-Li? What is a medium for art? - [Mai-Li] Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great question. One of the ways it could be interpreted is, it is the material that's being used to create the art. It can also be a reference to the context, like where the art lives. For example, is it on the wall? We talk a lot about medium as meaning, like, the digital medium is another kind of medium, like things that exist on screens. - [David] Yeah, I haven't even represented digital art. But I suppose you and I are making digital art right now. - We could say that, yeah. - [David] Video art is definitely a kind of art. - [Mai-Li] For sure. - [David] So for example, over here, this graffiti was done with aerosol spray paint. We've got oil paints represented here, and here. We've got cave painting, which was made from all sorts of naturally-derived pigments. You know, like mud, and ash, and berries and stuff. - [Mai-Li] Yeah. Inventions of new media give rise to new art. And so, for example, the aerosol spray cans that gave rise to graffiti, they didn't exist until somebody invented them. And because somebody invented them, street art and graffiti were able to take hold as an art form. - [David] Now, there are some people that would argue that street art and graffiti are not art. - [Mai-Li] Yeah. You and I are not those people. - [Mai-Li] That's true. - [David] Let's move on. (Mai-Li chuckles) Why do people make art? This a big one. - [Mai-Li] Yeah. There are so many reasons why people could be motivated to make art. I would love the audience who hopefully has an experience making art themselves to ask themselves, why do you make art. - [David] Well, Mai-Li, you're a sound artist and a visual artist. - Mm-hmm. How and why do you make art? Why do you make art? - [Mai-Li] So I love art that poses visual questions. - [David] And I make art because I want to explore ideas. So similar deal. - [Mai-Li] Mm-hmm. - [David] I also think that art is influenced by the culture or cultures that you grow up in. For example, this gentleman here, this Maori guy, like this is part of the culture, to engage in this kind of elaborate facial tattooing. - Yeah. - Right? - Absolutely. - Ta moko. Right, and so culture can also influence the way that art is made. I would argue that Hokusai's print here is emblematic of a very Japanese style, you know. And different cultures can influence different forms and different styles of art. And even different perceptions of what is art. - [Mai-Li] Completely. So, what's fascinating about that is that people from one culture can view the art of a different culture in a totally different light than the people from a third culture might see it. And I think one of the fascinating things about culture, in general, is that it shapes not only our art but our thoughts. And then our thoughts shape our art. - [David] Let us know how this shaped your thoughts. Thanks, Mai-Li. - Thanks, David.