When one mentions the word art, it generally evokes the idea of paintings, murals, drawings, collages, and so on. And you wouldn’t be half wrong.

I believe, however, that art is anything that takes you out of your body momentarily and has you focusing on the cause of your pleasure; or displeasure – sometimes art doesn’t give you pleasure, rather it causes you to question yourself or to think hard. According to Tolstoy, to define art, one must cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and instead think of it as a condition of human life.

I came across the phrase – ‘allegories of art’ when I happened upon the painting of the same name; and since googling ‘types of art’, ‘forms of art’, ‘categories of art’ and so on wasn’t conveying what I intended, I realized allegories of art would have to do.

An allegory is the message or metaphor that may not immediately lend itself to the reader/ listener/ viewer of the art piece. I think this is appropriate as I find that ‘art’ is rarely adequately defined.

Art is painting, poetry, dance, theatre, photography, music, architecture, novels, film, fashion design, architecture, graphic art and much more.

I read Tolstoy’s book, What is Art? and found it enlightening. He states that: “The activity of art is based on the fact that a man receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man’s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it… Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications.”

I like this idea of the activity of art, art being more than just a noun but a doing word. I also subscribe to Tolstoy’s belief that the artist aims to join himself with others through his emotions.

This emotional attachment or rather emotional transmission is what separates the vase that is art from the vase that is created for the practical purpose of holding flowers; it is what distinguishes the telephone that we use to make calls from the telephone that Lady Gaga wears as a hat; it is what defines a story and makes a dance more than just the act of moving arm and leg.

According to Germaine Greer, “Art is anything an artist calls art. An artist is someone who makes or does something she or he thinks of as art.”

Greer’s definition of art is broader than Tolstoy’s but there is merit in his words. He refers to the idea of an ‘art zone’ or ‘art time’ to distinguish art from other works. I understand that to mean when an artist takes out time to create something simply to have that thing created rather than to satisfy a practical need, then it is art.

Greer also argues that “A urinal is not an art object as long as it is carrying out its essential function. To make it art we detach it from the plumbing, tip it on its end and set it on a plinth. The beholder then has to entertain a galaxy of new and unfamiliar thoughts about the object, redefining it and herself in relation to it.”

What do you believe art is?



Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. She has had short stories published in anthologies and has also self published work. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam.

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