Art, in my mind, is defined as the manifestation of creative expression. By “creative”, I mean “invented from nothing”. Creativity is a by-product of our intelligence, self-awareness, and seemingly random, un-explainable imagination.
If someone paints a picture by number, this is not art. They are not “creating” something from nothing. They are only following directions in the same sense that your printer might follow instructions from your computer. Would you call your printer an artist? No. It’s just a machine following instructions.
If a young piano player presses the keys on a piano in exactly the manner he/she is instructed to and hammers out a musical sequence, this also, is *not* art. It would *only* be “art” if the student were to connect with the music on some level and create a *new* song or variation using their imagination.
So when you ask someone what art is, why do you get so many different responses? Why is there so much ambiguity in the overall definition of the word? If you ask one person if a trash can is a piece of art, they might say “yes”, whereas another person might promptly reply, “No!”
I believe this problem arises from the way how humans arrive at definitions in their mind largely from context. They see an amazing painting and they hear it referred to as “art”, so they assume that “art” is defined only as “an amazing painting”. Another person might hear a piece of music or poetry referred to as “art”, so they come to the conclusion that “art” is defined as “music and poetry”.
As a result, if you stick the two people together, they might hem and haw and argue for days about what “art” is and what it means. Eventually they might arrive at the conclusion that “art” is defined as “amazing paintings, music, or poetry”.
The problem is quite simple. They’re failing to look at the true underlying concept that all these items share: None of these things would have been possible without human imagination and creativity.
So what about all the other paintings? You know, the crappy ones that never make it to a museum? Are they art? The people that created them would most certainly argue that they were! After all, many of the most famous paintings weren’t given proper credit until long after the artist was gone. It appears that “amazing” isn’t necessarily a requirement for something to be “art”.
You see, there are many different kinds of “art”, some of which are fascinating and amazing (the Mona Lisa, etc…), but there are countless other day-to-day creative expressions (an email written to a friend or a new spin on a pastry dish, for example) which are largely ignored.
However, just because a “creative expression” is ignored as “art” doesn’t make it “not art”. All it means is that it’s not intriguing or amazing art. It’s boring art. It’s every-day art. Or… something.