What is art and why is this question important? The question seems more suited to the topic of philosophy than of art, yet that does not mean philosophy has any easy answer to this seemingly simple question. Rather, one of the consequences of studying philosophy is in the realization that the simplest questions are often the most difficult to answer. Philosophy may offer a foundation for our most treasured beliefs but it also shows us how little we actually know. The Delphic oracle declared Socrates the wisest man in Athens, which came as a surprise to him, as he felt that he did not know anything for certain. However, he came to realize that through his questioning of people confident in their own knowledge, the oracle was right. Socrates’ wisdom was in his knowing the limits of his expertise and always questioning.
It can be tempting to dismiss the question this dissertation proposes altogether. Why bother theorizing about art at all? Artist Barnett Newman once said that artists needed art theory as much as birds needed ornithology. But the question is worth exploring and investigating because it is so mystifying, and it gets more puzzling the more artists test the definition of art.
The art world’s role and influence on society has been integral to how we progress and respond to things and how the world looks around us. As Waldemar Januszczak states in his documentary Ugly Beauty,
When we’re gone, the art we leave behind is what our successors will judge us by.…