A unified theory of Art

Warning: the following theory and concepts are my own, do not take this as an actual academic theory.

We have now explored the ideas of art as conjunction of shapes, forms and colors that create a distinct and unique aesthetic experience, as the transmission of an specific feeling the artist wishes to convey, as more of a series of common characteristics that are shared by some but not all works of art, but that still mark them as such and as the result of an academic and institutional consensus. To my  (admittedly limited) knowledge, not many attempts have been done in the visual arts to reconcile all these approaches. Authors like Cynthia Freeland and Nigel Warburton both have written books trying to explain what art is, however in the end, both authors make a similar suggestion: Perhaps each individual should create their own definition of art. Continue reading

Institutional Theory of Art

And so we get to the last of the aesthetic theories I am covering. This theory takes a descriptive approach to describe what art is. Just as the dictionary describes how language is being used by actual living human beings, the institutional theory tells us that art is what the art world says it is. It does not seek to provide an all encompassing definition that covers every form of art in existence. What it does, is appeal to a certain degree of connoisseurship and academic knowledge. George Dickie, continuing the work of Arthur Danto’s art world tells us that art is: Continue reading

Expression of Emotion

I have managed to squirrel some time to write again (this semester was a trial by fire) and thus I will continue with my plan to explain the four most common aesthetic theories. For this post, we will look at Robin George Collingwood’s theory of expression of emotion.

In broad terms, the theory tells us that art is mostly expression, that is, viewer and artist come together to experience a mental state, or emotion. I make emphasis in the words “come together” because they highlight one of the most crucial aspects of Collingwood’s theory: shared experiences. This is important to Collingwood as he believed re-enactment, the act of being in the same place of mind and context as the subject of study, was necessary to properly understand both human history as well as art. Collingwood refers to art as:

“the imaginative expression of emotion in a way that goes from a general imprecise feeling, to an expression that allows an understanding on part of the audience of the exact kind of feeling the artist feels”

Continue reading

The pleasures of teaching

An undergrad wrote this about my class:

“I know that the class had no clear intention to adress any philosophical issues or issues of imperialism, socialism and social injustice, however I noticed that by knowing the culture around us we can get answers to the questions I mentioned above, and understand how things happen the way they do and why cultural conventions are generated.”

Well son, let me tell you, THAT was the whole point of the class, you learnt about all those issues while we talked about game of thrones and superman.

Featured image by Alroyfonseca (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Art?


The more semesters I teach, the more I come across this question from my students, and it seems to be asked mostly by art historians and artists. The fact that students in their sixth semester are asking this question is, if nothing else it is interesting that so far into their career, students are still questioning what constitutes art. And even then, at least in Mexico, they seem to find themselves in one of two sides. One group, adheres to pure aesthetics, i.e. the creation of beauty (as understood by Mexican society) and another that sees in experimentation the true essence of art. Both interpretations however find it hard to justify or embrace artistic expressions that fall outside of the bounds of their respective understanding. Continue reading

Main exhibition space

On museum’s relevance

“For museums to retain their relevance and become positive partners in the development of our societies, they should use their unique resources and potentials to become more responsive to the dynamics of modern society and urban change.”

Emmanuel N. Arinze,1999