What is Art, Anyway?

During a recent visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, I spent some time studying my favorite exhibit there—Alixa and Naima, a mixed media piece by Swoon. There is such beauty in the deliberate placement of random materials, such care in the way this piece came together. Viewing it now, on a computer screen rather than in person, I still find myself moved, inspired, challenged as an artist, and am begged to ask: what is art, anyway?

Alixa and Naima is a perfect example that art is more than just a painting or a poem, but who determines these things? Who decides whether or not something is art? Museum curators? Collectors with flush pockets? Some kid armed with a paintbrush or a pen? Or is it merely up to the observer, whose opinion (generally) will be determined by a collective composite of unique life experiences rather than an artistic education?

As I was strolling through the corridors of the MIA, I couldn't help but to wonder if any of the artists knew their work would someday be loved by museum goers. Did they have any clue what their art would come to mean while they were making it? If so, did that change the outcome? Are there pieces on display that were never even intended as art? And how did they all come together under one roof, tediously chosen for public view?

One thing is certain—art means different things to different people. But there is common ground in the emotions it incites. Perhaps then the best determination for whether or not something is art is whether or not it elicits an emotional response. If it makes me feel something, it's art. Until I find a better argument, I'm just going to have to stick with that.


Alixa and Naima, 2008 by Swoon