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Thread: Why is "art" synonymous with "painting"?

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    Why is "art" synonymous with "painting"?

    "Art" is notoriously difficult to define, but I think everyone will agree that it includes far more than painting. Yet "art" is often used as a synonym for "painting," like in the very title of this sub-forum. Why is that?

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    The Oxford English Dictioary gives the earliest definition of “art” as “Skill in doing something, esp. as the result of knowledge or practice” from c 1300.

    It comments that the most usual meaning nowadays is “The expression or application of creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting, drawing, or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” but that is not found before the nineteenth century.

    Although art can be used of poetry and other non visual arts, the plural “arts” would be more usual then.

    Why the visual arts are more typically called art is your (interesting) question. I can only guess.
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    For some reason people are more comfortable preserving the illusion that art is something a canvass is doing rather than something they are doing with an artist.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    It may be that in the case of paintings and sculpture, the work itself demonstrates the skill of the artist so that we think of those arts as typically art. Poetry, novels, music and even architecture are created in the head of the artist first in a more obvious way.
    Previously JonathanB

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    It may be that in the case of paintings and sculpture, the work itself demonstrates the skill of the artist so that we think of those arts as typically art. Poetry, novels, music and even architecture are created in the head of the artist first in a more obvious way.
    You may be right. Perhaps it is because we live in a time when people do not know enough about poetry, novels, and music to recognize flaws that would be obvious in the visual arts. I can only speak for myself: I don't buy paintings or sculpture so I have no reason to analyze a work for technical skill. I often visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts or the National Palace Museum near Taipei where I take virtuosity as a given and seek to appreciate the art on an individual level. The artist sent something and I receive it. Great things happen, but it is all at this interface in my noodle (or my soul, if you want). For me, that makes art criticism and orthodoxies of taste less relevant, although such things are always interesting and it is possible to learn from them. But technical ability is--the artists business?

    Now that I think of it, I hold the same assumption of virtuosity for most music I hear (granted I don't listen to much pop). I appreciate virtuosos for the intellectual and emotional individuality they bring, but I don't need to get too close to their mechanical processes. I enjoy jazz and classical music on the radio, for example, but I see no point to watching either on television. If I ever watch a symphony, I usually shut my eyes so I don't have to think about musicians and instruments. Cello music is sublime, but cellists never fail to look ridiculous. Yes, they're brilliant. Now be quiet and let me listen.

    I hold no such expectations for writers, though. I notice every flub and I find them harder to bear as I get older (I wish I could enjoy bad novels again but I can't). Yet I consider writing and reading to be a partnership in which both parties contribute to the final experience more than any other art form. I'm not sure why it should be an exception to the virtuosity principle. Perhaps it has something to do with the commercial realities of the publishing industry. Or maybe I should just educate myself enough about painting, sculpture, and music to recognize the mistakes I seem to be missing. I'm sure in time I could learn to enjoy them less, too.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 12-07-2016 at 02:43 PM.

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    There are several reasons why visual art is the most typical representative of art in general:

    (1) The visual sense of man (vision) is the most important because most informative of his senses, (2) visual art objects are materially fixed, can be received without any intermediary activity of interpreters/performers, and need not to be translated into imagination, and (3) visual art is the first art form in human history which became a concrete material element of cultural traditions (that is, shamanic cave art / there are cave paintings worth hanging in modern art galleries).

    The shamanism theory of archaeologist David Lewis-Williams and others says that rock paintings were produced by drug-consuming shamans for the purpose of showing to the rest of the tribe what the shaman had experienced on his or her soul flight. According to archaeologist Dean Snow most shamans might have been female, what is indicated by the measurable gender of handprints found beside many paintings as sort of signature. Of course, shamanic rituals also included rudimentary music and dance in order to evoke a trancy state of mind. Hence it is the field of archaic religion where art has originated.

    Most probably, literature as art form also sprung up in this field in form of shamanic oral reports of their experiences, some of which might have been orally delivered to posterity as the first appearances of mythology.

    Despite the above stated plusses of pure visual art, other art forms (music, literature, movies) have special features which make them superior to pure visual art in some respects.

    As to music, it reaches far deeper into the ´soul´ of man, be it in the area of emotions or in the spiritual area. Music is not bound to represent elements of the objective world (as most visual art and literature are) but makes the ´soul strings´ immediately vibrate. Pythagoras was the first to propose a direct relation between the mathematical proportions of music scales and the mathematical proportions of the cosmic order. Later esotericians supplemented this theory by adding a relationship of both those structures to the structure of human soul. So music has undoubtedly the most intensive impact on human souls of all art forms.

    Literature, on the other hand, is able to transmit information on a much larger scale than visual art. By way of talking to the imagination, it evokes mental representations of visual objects and activities, of sounds, of tastes, and of smells, as well as of feelings and thoughts either of the author or of narrative figures, all of which create a mental scenario in which the receiver might ´purify´ his or her soul. As is well-known, in the theory of Aristoteles the main purpose of literature consists in the ´catharsic´ (purifying) effect on the receiver. However, this idea is rather contested in our days because it seems to restrict the purpose of literature in a too moral sense.

    Originating in photography, theater and opera, movies are a very powerful variant of art. They combine all other art forms (visual art, music, and literature) to a ´total artwork´, a notion and concept by Richard Wagner which he propagated in some essays around 1850.

    In sum, movies have become – in my view and for the reasons forementioned – the most important art form in our days and probably for all future centuries.

    An example for the influence of music on painting is the abstract work of Kandinsky. He was inspired for that style by a synesthetic experience while listening to Wagner music in an opera house in Munich.

    As to that experience, experiments with psychoactive drugs have proven an innate capacity of man of mixing sensual data, for example, hearing colors and seeing sounds.
    Last edited by Tammuz; 12-08-2016 at 04:25 PM.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    From the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans (as well as non-Western cultures such as India, China, and Japan) on through the Middle-Ages, the Visual Arts were largely seen within the context of architecture or an architectural setting. The dominant pictorial art form of this period of time was sculpture. In part, this was due to desire to convey solidity and eternity. In part this was due to the fact that many other art forms were far more likely to suffer from the ravages of time. Today, we have a great wealth of sculptural art from Greece and Rome... but very little painting has survived.

    From the Renaissance through the mid-20th century painting was unchallenged as the dominant visual art form. For every artist who worked almost exclusively as a sculptor, most who are knowledgeable of art history can name dozens of painters of equal or greater stature. Several artists (Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman) have been credited with the quote: "Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting." I suspect there is also the vagueness of the terms "painter" and "painting". If I were to tell someone that I am a "painter" more likely than not, they will assume I paint houses. So I would likely simply say "I'm an artist." Art/the Arts certainly include creative endeavors beyond the Visual Arts... including literature and music. If someone states that they are a musician or a composer both terms embrace the broad spectrum of musical art forms. The same is true of "literature" or "author". The term "author" embraces the poet, playright, critic, novelist, etc... "Art" (or to a lesser extent, "Visual Art") is simply embraced by visual artists as a catch phrase that embraces all the variety of visual art forms: painting, sculpture, the book arts, illustration, the fiber arts, ceramics, metalry, printmaking, photography, etc...
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 12-09-2016 at 08:49 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    The Oxford English Dictioary gives the earliest definition of “art” as “Skill in doing something, esp. as the result of knowledge or practice” from c 1300.
    I see, I knew "art" used to mean "skill" but not that the new meaning was so recent.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    There are several reasons why visual art is the most typical representative of art in general:
    That's an interesting point about visual arts not requiring to be translated/performed. But regarding movies; don't you think that when combining several art forms, they distract from as well as enhance each other? It's true cinema is a dominant art form, but I'm not sure that's because of any inherent superiority to the more "pure" art forms.

    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    From the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans (as well as non-Western cultures such as India, China, and Japan) on through the Middle-Ages, the Visual Arts were largely seen within the context of architecture or an architectural setting.
    Good point, I hadn't thought of the ambiguity of the word "painter." Why did painting become more dominant than sculpture in the Renaissance though, to the point where some artists would disrespect sculpture with a quote like that?

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    much more prosaically, I wonder if its because for the most part, when we take art class in school, painting was likely the most common or memorable element?

    and then in our adult lives, painting is still, at least seemingly, more ubiquitous---when we go places, we typically see paintings prominently placed on walls.

    on a side note---its interesting that we often refer to musicians as "artists" but rarely consider what musicians do as "art."

    I taught philosophy of sport for a couple of years and we did a few readings on the relationship between sport and art. I loved it and to this day still, the "aesthetic" in sport is a big draw for me.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Tammuz- ...visual art objects are materially fixed, can be received without any intermediary activity of interpreters/performers, and need not to be translated into imagination...

    This is partially true. But you need to realize that the full understanding of a work of visual art often depends upon prior knowledge.

    For example, the average person raised in Western culture will likely recognize the subject of this painting...



    ... and understand that it is not merely some dipiction of a horrific form of torture (although it is that) without any deeper significance.

    On the other hand, in spite of a rather broad knowledge of art history, I could not identify the subject of this painting off hand:



    Even works withing the Western tradition may require a good deal of background information to be fully understood:



    Having said that, visual art, like music, can be "understood" and appreciated purely in formal terms... for the "abstract" elements of art (color, line, space, etc...) and how they are organized. This is not true of literature. It would be highly unlikely that one might take much pleasure in reading a poem in German if one has no understanding of the language.

    As to music, it reaches far deeper into the ´soul´ of man, be it in the area of emotions or in the spiritual area. Music is not bound to represent elements of the objective world (as most visual art and literature are) but makes the ´soul strings´ immediately vibrate.

    Walter Pater argued as much, suggesting that not only was music the most purely abstract of art forms, but it was also the art form in which form and content are the most inseperable. Many of the first experiments in abstraction in the visual arts were rooted in music and a desire for a greater unity of form and content.

    Literature, on the other hand, is able to transmit information on a much larger scale than visual art.

    I'm not certain I fully agree. Visual art and music communicate many things that cannot be really put into words. The shift toward Conceptual Art in the contemporary art world is owed in part to the fact that Visual Arts education has become increasingly academicized with an ever greater stress upon theory and criticism at the expense of time spent in the art studio. It is far easier to logically argue about iconography, symbolism, and "meaning" than it is to argue about the brilliance of color harmonies or the sensitivity of an artist's handling of line or paint strokes.
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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Why did painting become more dominant than sculpture in the Renaissance though, to the point where some artists would disrespect sculpture with a quote like that?

    Leonardo argued that painting was more poetic. I'm not sure about that. In part I suspect that it was due to an increased interest in an ever greater illusion of "reality". Sculpture took a single figure out of the context of the "real world" and presented that to the viewer. Painting offered up a window looking into the "real world" which a figure was seen within a the /space. Painting was also faster and cheaper, and far more capable of being transported or moved. Painting also brought the element of color into play to a far greater extent than sculpture.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bounty View Post
    much more prosaically, I wonder if its because for the most part, when we take art class in school, painting was likely the most common or memorable element?

    and then in our adult lives, painting is still, at least seemingly, more ubiquitous---when we go places, we typically see paintings prominently placed on walls.

    on a side note---its interesting that we often refer to musicians as "artists" but rarely consider what musicians do as "art."

    I taught philosophy of sport for a couple of years and we did a few readings on the relationship between sport and art. I loved it and to this day still, the "aesthetic" in sport is a big draw for me.
    Though superficial this Wikipedia link provides an initial reference for the different types of expression called art:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_arts

    I am not a fan of sports but the aesthetic aspect of it interests me. I know there is ornamental gym, there are body building techniques but that is about all I know about it. It would be nice to learn something more, bounty.
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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    I am not a fan of sports but the aesthetic aspect of it interests me. I know there is ornamental gym, there are body building techniques but that is about all I know about it. It would be nice to learn something more, bounty.

    Well... to grasp the idea of the visual aesthetics of sports you might start with something like women's beach volleyball.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leopard View Post
    That's an interesting point about visual arts not requiring to be translated/performed. But regarding movies; don't you think that when combining several art forms, they distract from as well as enhance each other? It's true cinema is a dominant art form, but I'm not sure that's because of any inherent superiority to the more "pure" art forms.?
    As I wrote at the end of my article, human mind is apt to mix/combine/interchange sensual data; colors can ´speak´ and sounds are ´dark´ or ´bright´ or ´colorful´ and so on. In case the director is outstandingly gifted for combining vision and music, both spheres will definitely, as you say, enhance each other; examples are ´2001´, ´Clockwork Orange´, and - in my personal opinion - ´Transformers´ (composer: Steve Jablonsky).

    Take the Danube-Waltz in ´2001´: by combining it with a sequence of a shuttle approaching a huge Ferris-wheel-like orbit station, Kubrick has charged the waltz with much more expressiveness than it had before (of course, only for those who know the movie). Simultaneously, the space scene gains expressiveness by the music. We are faced here with the chicken-and-egg-question; maybe, it´s the visual scenery which captures the viewer at first so that he becomes more receptive for the accompanying sound. But basically it is true that both spheres are enhancing each other; one can compare this with the effect of complementary colors, for example, green / red, or yellow / violet; when combined, they gain by way of mutual input much more intensity (output), so painters often use them as amplifiers of the visual expression of a painting. ´2001´ is packed with equivalent examples, like the great Strauss fanfare at the beginning or the Ligeti sound in a moon scene or the Khatchaturian sound in the scene of the space ship majestically heading for Jupiter.

    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    Tammuz- ...visual art objects are materially fixed, can be received without any intermediary activity of interpreters/performers, and need not to be translated into imagination...

    This is partially true. But you need to realize that the full understanding of a work of visual art often depends upon prior knowledge. For example, the average person raised in Western culture will likely recognize the subject of this painting...
    (...) ... and understand that it is not merely some dipiction of a horrific form of torture (although it is that) without any deeper significance.
    This is a controversial point in art theory. You naturally know that in the art scene of the 19th century, historical, mythological and religious motifs became more and more disputed by artists who believed in the autonomy of visual art, that is, in the independence of the artistic expression from things that haven´t anything to do with painting in itself. The first to rebel against the traditional idea that painting has to transport non-visual contents were the Impressionists who reduced these contents to an extreme superficiality - that is, the viewer was not in need of knowing a wider cultural context of the shown scenery because he or she knew it from everyday life. The next step was the Expressionism which reduced the objects to half-abstract shapes. Kandinsky made the next and final step to abstraction using only colors and forms to express the basic visual energies, being inspired by music as I wrote before. Some years earlier, the artists Hilma af Klint and Frantisek Kupka created the first abstract paintings, both of them unfortunately remaining rather unknown in spite of their pioneer work.

    So, radical advocates of the idea that painting should be basically independent of non-visual content would argue that the artificial value of - for example - the pictures shown in your article are only to be measured by the visual expressivity, independently from any historical or cultural background information.

    So it is one thing to ´understand´ a painting and another thing to appreciate its articifial qualities. What is needed for understanding has nothing to do with these qualities. For example, to appreciate the quality of Rembrandt or Rubens or Leonardo or Caravaggio paintings, one needs no historical or religious or mythological background info. Moreover, in my view such info does not add anything to the artificial value of those paintings.

    As to the "deeper significance" regarding the Christ painting, I see the problem of exactly determining what the significance really is. A Christ would say that the Son of God is shown in the worst moment of his passion before ascending to heaven (which of course is said to have occurred some days after). However, an atheist has another view on the scene, seeing a tortured itinerant preacher who has failed on his self-imposed messianic mission. Moreover, if the atheistic viewer doubts the historicity of the shown figures, the scene is reduced to a mere phantasma.

    So what is the value of background information in this case, if there is no consense on the historical background of the figures?

    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    Walter Pater argued as much, suggesting that not only was music the most purely abstract of art forms, but it was also the art form in which form and content are the most inseperable. Many of the first experiments in abstraction in the visual arts were rooted in music and a desire for a greater unity of form and content.
    I said basically the same (Kandinsky was inspired by music) at the end of my article.

    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    Literature, on the other hand, is able to transmit information on a much larger scale than visual art.

    I'm not certain I fully agree. Visual art and music communicate many things that cannot be really put into words.
    Of course, but I don´t see the point which you are disputing. I mean exactly that to which you referred in the painting context, that is, the issue of background information which is, regarding paintings, thought to be obsolete by the advocates of the idea of ´pure´ visual art. In novels and screenplays the author has to provide a certain amount of back-info on figures and story, not too much, so that the tension does not lower, and not too little, so that the receiver is able to follow the story. Apart from this self-evident dramaturgical technique, a literary work necessarily contains a considerable amount of information that is needed for constructing a fictive world and fictive characters. Even more: a story is fundamentally built of information bits which are interwoven by the author to form a mental world in which the receiver emotionally and intellectually participates. In pure visual art (painting, sculpture, dance) this is neither possible (since they present mere frozen moments) nor - regarding the artificial value - basically necessary.
    Last edited by Tammuz; 12-10-2016 at 03:31 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    I am not a fan of sports but the aesthetic aspect of it interests me. I know there is ornamental gym, there are body building techniques but that is about all I know about it. It would be nice to learn something more, bounty.

    Well... to grasp the idea of the visual aesthetics of sports you might start with something like women's beach volleyball.
    hah! laughs...

    danik, lemme hunt up some of my old readings and i'll share a little bit here from them.

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