What Is Art?
WHAT is the most beautiful sight you have ever seen? Was it a tropical sunset, a snowcapped mountain range, a profusion of blossoms in the desert, the glorious colors of a forest in the fall of the year?
Most of us cherish some special moment when we were captivated by the earth’s beauty. If we can, we like to spend our vacations in paradisaic surroundings, and we try to capture the most memorable sights on film.
The next time you gaze at this unspoiled grandeur, there are questions you might consider. Wouldn’t you feel something was missing if every painting in an art gallery were marked “Anonymous”? If you were deeply moved by the quality and beauty of the paintings in an exhibition, wouldn’t you want to know who the artist was? Should we be satisfied with the contemplation of earth’s beauteous wonders and yet ignore the Artist who created them?
True, there are those who claim that there is no such thing as art in nature—that art requires human creative skill and interpretation. Such a definition of art, however, is perhaps too narrow. What exactly is art?
A definition of art that will satisfy everybody is probably impossible. But as good an explanation as any is found in Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, which says that art is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination esp[ecially] in the production of aesthetic objects.” On this basis we can say that an artist needs to have both skill and creative imagination. When he puts these two aptitudes to work, he can produce something that others will find pleasing or attractive.
Are expressions of skill and imagination limited to human works of art? Or are they also manifest in the natural world around us?
The lofty California redwoods, the extensive coral reefs of the Pacific, the mighty waterfalls of the rain forest, and the magnificent herds of the African savanna are, in different ways, more valuable to humankind than the “Mona Lisa.” For that reason, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has designated Redwood National Park, U.S.A.; Iguaçú Falls, Argentina/Brazil; the Great Barrier Reef, Australia; and Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, as part of mankind’s “World Heritage.”
These natural treasures are included alongside man-made monuments. Why? The aim is to preserve whatever has “exceptional universal value.” UNESCO argues that whether the beauty be that of the Taj Mahal, India, or the Grand Canyon, U.S.A., it deserves protection for the sake of future generations.
But you need not travel to a national park in order to observe creative skill. A supreme example is your own body. The sculptors of ancient Greece viewed the human form as the epitome of artistic excellence, and they strove to represent it as perfectly as possible. With our present knowledge of the workings of the body, we can appreciate even more the consummate ability required for its creation and design.
What about creative imagination? Look at the exquisite patterns on the quivering train of the peacock, the delicate bloom of a rose, or the high-speed ballet of a glittering hummingbird. Surely, such artistry was art, even before it was captured on canvas or on film. A National Geographic writer, intrigued by the lavender filaments of the tacca lily, asked a young scientist what their purpose was. His simple answer: “They reveal the imagination of God.”
Not only do skill and creative imagination abound in the natural world but they have been a constant source of inspiration to human artists. Auguste Rodin, the famous French sculptor, said: “The artist is the confidant of nature. Flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms.”
Some artists openly recognized their limitations when trying to emulate natural beauty. “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection,” confessed Michelangelo, considered one of the greatest artists of all time.
Scientists, as well as artists, may be overwhelmed by the beauty of the natural world. A professor of mathematical physics, Paul Davies, in his book The Mind of God, explains that “even hard-nosed atheists frequently have what has been called a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect for its depth and beauty and subtlety, that is akin to religious awe.” What should this teach us?
The Artist Behind the Artistry
An art student learns about the artist in order to understand and appreciate his art. He or she realizes that the artist’s work is a reflection of the individual. Nature’s art also reflects the personality of nature’s originator, Almighty God. “His invisible qualities are clearly seen . . . by the things made,” explained the apostle Paul. (Romans 1:20) What is more, the earth’s Maker is by no means anonymous. As Paul told the Athenian philosophers of his day, “[God] is not far off from each one of us.”—Acts 17:27.
The artwork in God’s creation is not purposeless or accidental. Apart from enriching our lives, it reveals the skills, imagination, and grandeur of the greatest Artist, the Universal Designer, Jehovah God.
g95 11/8 pp. 3-5 What Is Art?
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