What is art?

Yesterday, I added a post-script to my original post, answering a question I am often asked "What is 'art' to you?" because I am often blathering in my posts along the lines of "this is art" and "this isn't art, it's just  'pretty'."

                                                                          "Fern No. 3" (c) 2012 Kit Lang

In talking with Deidre Adams on Facebook yesterday (one of my very favourite artists, actually, so you really ought to check out her work) I realized that my original definition of "art" as it applies to me, was actually fairly unclear, and also, might have inadvertently been insulting to some of you. And if you found it so, I apologize!

"Walking While Black" (c) 2012 Kit Lang

So, to be perfectly clear, when I am talking about "what art is" - I'm not addressing that in a large-scale, KIT'S DEFINITION OF ART APPLIES TO EVERYONE" way.  I'm always, only talking about it in the context of my own work.  So:

When I make "art" I am trying to convey something or evoke a response.

"Lake of Dreams - Quartet" (c) 2012 Kit Lang

If I have no intention in the creation of the piece, then I feel emotionally separated from it, and I find no pleasure or "art" in it. I may be making something "pretty", but to me, it is bereft of meaning.

"In Dreams" (c) 2012 Kit Lang

To find happiness in my own work, I need to find meaning, which sometimes is there when I begin the work, sometimes develops in the acts of creation, and sometimes travels with me the whole way through, only to slip away as I near the end.
"Written On The Body" (c) 2012 Kit Lang

"Meaning" is often transient in my work, but will sometimes reappear through some odd alchemy that I can't control.

"Incendiary: Marie-Joseph Angelique" (c) 2012 Kit Lang

All I know is, if I can't find the meaning in my work, then it doesn't feel like "art".

Kit 120

Kit Lang


  1. It's interesting to hear you describe that sometimes the meaning is there at the beginning, etc.

    I find myself struggling with this. I want to have emotional connection with my artwork, but have also observed that sometimes that feeling is there from the beginning and sometimes it never comes, and sometimes it really does develop as I work. I have a hard time starting new things if I don't feel an emotional connection to the project (even if I'm really enamored by the idea) because I have done things where I don't feel an emotional connection to it ever and that often winds up feeling like a waste of time and resources. On the other hand, in the back of my head I know that some of my personal favorite projects are ones which started off that way; with which I only felt connected once I'd gotten really into the project or even towards the very end.

    Do you have a particular strategy for dealing with this with your work during those beginning stages? How do you decide if a piece you've started is worth pursuing if you don't have an initial emotional connection to it?

    1. I think for me, its not necessarily problematic if I don't feel the meaning initially - I don't mind making "pretty". I don't even mind making pretty a LOT, I just have to find the meaning sometimes in addition to pretty.

      That said, sometimes I get so discouraged, that it ends up going in my "I hate it!" pile. Eventually, those get rehabbed and rescued though. ("Last Fall, In Spring", finished about six weeks ago, is one such piece. It will never fall into my definition of "art", but I learned a lot making it, and I'm pleased with the end result.

      I guess what I'm saying is that i know I can't make great art all the time. Some pieces are for learning, growing, exploring; but if their vision is incomplete or merely "pretty", that's not a bad thing. The process is important to my growth as an artist.

      Hope that helps,


  2. I often find that making art which has meaning to me is the most scary undertaking. I know what I feel about it and I have in my mind a vision of how I want to express that meaning. My problem is that I struggle to find a way to represent it in way that will both satisfy me and, hopefully, convey that meaning to others. The result is that pieces end up not being made, or not being completed. Maybe I should take note of what you have said and just go with it and see where it takes me.

    1. Clearly, I am in no way an expert; but I have found, nearly always, that making is better than not making, and that if the piece is a "failure" in the end, that too is a learning process - enabling me to succeed on the next one. Or maybe the one after that.

      When I was quilting, I used to say "It's only fabric". But even though I'm making art now, why not have the same attitude? What does it matter if mistakes are made? It's only fabric! :)

  3. I hear you but I respectfully don't agree. I think their "might" be some subliminal force at work even when we create a work of beauty (pretty) that one is unaware of. I know the 4 piece tree series was very meaningful to me as an environmentalist and even "In Dreams" has a lot of power and meaning in your color choices, embroidery and embellishment. I usually go to Colliers English Dictionary.

    the creation of works of beauty or other special significance
    the exercise of human skill (as distinguished from nature)
    imaginative skill as applied to representations of the natural world or figments of the imagination
    the products of man's creative activities; works of art collectively, esp of the visual arts, sometimes also music, drama, dance, and literature

    However, if you don't want to think of your amazing work as art, you are certainly entitled to. I consider it Art with a capital A.

    1. Oh Beth. *smile* I love your unfailing support and defense of me. Thank you, my friend. Xo

      Now. First of all, I didn't say *none* of my work is art, I said that according to my definition - *some* of it isn't.

      I illustrated my post with work that falls into both categories, but won't reveal which is which.

      Second, there is no "agree" nor "disagree", respectfully or otherwise. Lol

      They're MY feelings. About MY work.

      You can define and impose meaning on my work if you want to - certainly, there's nothing I Cando to stop you! ;)

      But my feelings are mine.

  4. You didn't insult me, just got me thinking. Now I get it and I have to say, I probably feel the same way although you said it better than I ever could. Great discussion!

    1. I'm glad I didn't insult you, and hope that's true of everyone else, too! Glad you're enjoying the discussion. :)

  5. Great discussion Kit. I love your work, and I do see it as art, but I certainly understand what you are saying. When I completed "Out of the Blue" with the strong personal connection I have to it, it was on a different level for me than some of the other pieces that I have done.

    1. Exactly. And that's what I'm looking for when I make "art". :)

  6. I think I'm with Beth in this...And yes, much of what I make could be defined as 'pretty'. So one might also ask, "What is meaning?"

    I rarely make 'statements' with my art. Since the Lost Decade (long story) I don't "do" dark in any way, shape or form. I am attracted/inspired by colour, shape, line, natural beauty...and sometimes my 'pretty' pieces bring a tear to the eye of a viewer who might say, "This reminds me of where I grew up" -- or something like that. That is 'meaning' enough for me. :-)

    1. As I said to Beth, I'm talking about *my* work, and how I feel about it - your mileage may vary with *your* work and how you feel about it. :)

      That said, making pretty adds its own value to the world as part of a cumulative effort to make it a more beautiful place. And if that's what you want to do, rather than "make statements" - again - your work, your choice. :)

  7. As far as I know there are no rules as to what is art and what isn't ... it's all very personal.
    You have the right to feel the way you do about your own work.
    But, a little part of me wants to say ... step over your invisible line and don't look back !

  8. I've been thinking about this quite a bit this year and find that I agree with your definition of 'art' and the feeling of intentionality that makes certain projects of mine meaningful to me and others rather soulless. The line between 'art' and 'design' is murky every once in a while, but usually clear.

    Get down with your bad self, woman! These are some amazing projects in this post. You're rather super amazing!


So, apparently I'm open for business again. :) Say hi if you like!