What is art?
How do you define it? Can you define it?
Is there art everywhere?
This question is one I ponder often, and recently, more so as I was on the thesis committee for a graduate student seeking a terminal degree in digital/generative art. During her thesis defense, one of the faculty members put out this question (IS IT ART?) and that surprised me. After all, the thesis topic already met faculty approval. I was a guest on the panel having worked with the student on her project and resulting thesis.
The project used art as a tool for students to express themselves and, at the same time, learn an important language for the future – coding. The end result was “art.” Both the graduate student and I accepted this as the premise. The project was multi-faceted because, although the students were very young, they had choices and the task was approached as a problem to solve. The idea of learning from failure became integral to what was learned. There were many valuable parts to this project. Certainly using art as an end result and a tool to gain other skills is valuable. In addition, there is creative expression and the various forms it can take. Problem solving is central to how we should be educating students to think, unravel questions and formulate answers to difficult situations. My graduate student believes that coding is necessary as a language for the future. People will be using coding in most jobs and every day situations. Moreover, the need for art, or the process of making art, is valuable to many pursuits. So the combination of using coding as a practical tool, and understanding it through both mathematics and an art form is important to include in K-12 education.
All of this background leads to the point — the scientific process, the engineering design process and the artistic process are related. They are not the same but there is overlap and value to all. It never occurred to me that these students may not be creating something, and to question that what they are creating is “art.” Somewhere in the middle of the defense, another professor declared (paraphrased), since this is for a terminal degree in art, I have to ask, is this art?
Taken aback by that comment, not for one second did it ever occur to me that it wasn’t art. Taking those words to heart, I considered them and asked myself not only if what she had done had an end product or outcome as art, but also was the process an artistic one?
So much that we do in life can be imitated or replicated in the artistic process. That discussion is a complex one perhaps for another time. What I can say is my answer and the conclusion I reached. I said that this “art” was the muse for my student and that she believed in it as art in its essence, and a valuable contribution to improve education. It is both necessary and a learning tool in addition to having creative properties. I recounted my own brief “test” question on creative pursuits: Do you have something to say? Did you say it? I believe this question defines whether or not you are making an artistic statement and can apply to various artistic media. The answer, of course, is not so simple, nor is it the same for everything or everyone. It becomes the difference between art and science. Art cannot be evaluated by its success as that is in the vision of every individual. Scientific success is determined by making a hypothesis and either proving it or not. There may be a grey area, but it is much smaller than in the artistic world.
So think about how you define art? Is it the quilt you make from a pattern? Is it the way you arrange food to be served? Is it an incredible building? Is it the way the trees form shadows in green against the bluest sky and the depth of the perspective and incredible colors and vistas nature offers? Is it an impeccable rendition of music that you love? Is it the way cells form on a slide when magnified? A sunset or sunrise? A photograph that captures a special emotional moment or facial expression? Is it the masterpieces of painters from the past? Mozart or Beethoven? An incredible ballerina?
What is art? I think it is having something to say and saying it. Thus the importance of the creative and artistic process as it integrates with mathematics, science and engineering. STEAM!