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WHAT MAKES art ART?

What is the difference between art and Fine Art?  Broadly interpreted, art can be described as anything a person creates for esthetic purposes.  Any decorative three dimensional object sculpture, ceramic pot, assemblage etc. or two dimensional painting, drawing, collage or the like. But, are these creations art?

To be able to make Art, one must have a sense of place derived from the study of what has come before.  The study of art history fine tunes one’s sensibilities, one’s eye!  With a broad knowledge of what has been deemed art through the ages one can recognize it today.

In other words, with education and training, you will know Art when you see it.  With a trained eye, Fine Art can quite easily be sorted from other creative processes, like craft, primitive art, folk art or hobbyist works, or decoration.  Similar to a Certified Wine Specialist being able to determine the quality of a wine.  Through education and training the sommelier can differentiate Fine Wine from that of a lower quality produced for the mass market of untrained wine consumers.

Art also should move people.  Art should evoke an emotional reaction from its’ viewers. People seeking art are already looking for an emotional connection.  Fine art should provide this, decoration cannot.  The emotion evoked does not have to be positive and uplifting it can be negative and disturbing.  The Art does not have to be representational to evoke emotion. Abstract Art can challenge the viewer to develop the emotional connection by looking inward and discovering the way the Art connects with them on a personal level.  In fact, with abstract Art the connection can be widely different for each individual viewer.

For instance, Picasso’s “Cat Devouring A Bird” from 1939.  The Artist depicts a common occurrence, a cat killing a bird, killing without remorse because cats have no conscience.  Although abstract, the characters in the painting are easily recognized.  The painting intends to evoke emotion from the viewer.  One viewer may think, “Oh my that poor bird.” another “Cats are good hunters”.  But if one were to view the painting in the context of when it was created and knowing that Picasso was Spanish, the emotion could be different and likely what the artist intended. In 1939 there was a war raging in Picasso’s home country Spain and the fear was that Franco and Hitler would expand their aggression to include all of Europe.  If you look closely at the cat in the painting, it's top row of teeth are flat like human teeth.  Picasso is in a sense putting a human face to the cat (see Fig.1).  The cat is actually a substitute for the human aggressor, Franco.  The ears of the cat are perched on top of its’ head like horns.  Is the cat the Devil? Is Franco the devil? Or do the ears represent a military hat worn by Spanish soldiers (see fig. 2).  The helpless bird represents the Spanish people, victims of Franco’s ruthless and remorseless killing.


Picasso Cat Painting
Fig 1 Picasso's "Cat Devouring A Bird"

Spanish soldiers photo
Fig 3 Turn the hats on their heads sideways and you can see the points like the cat's ears

How can non-objective Art resonate with the viewer?  Can one have a “Connection” with a painting that appears to represent nothing?  I believe the answer is yes.  Jackson Pollack’s later works were non-objective so called “drip paintings” (see fig.3 "Blue Poles").   I admit that when I was much younger and just beginning my art education I saw no value in Pollack’s work.  I viewed the painting as purely the result of a process like the”Fluid Abstract Painting” taught today in “art, craft” classes online and in person.  Now I see the intent, the structure, the beauty of Pollack’s works.  I look at them and marvel at his ability to make something that appears to be haphazard or serendipitous to the untrained eye to actually be structured, intentional, dynamic and wonderful.  I have been to many art fairs and gallery exhibitions where “artists” display their versions of drip paintings and I have seen none that even come close to capturing the vision, emotion and skill of Jackson Pollack’s.  The copycat fluid and drip abstract paintings are pure process, pure decoration (see fig. 4).

W. K.Johnson 2024



Pollack's Blue Poles Painting
Jackson Pollack's "Blue Poles"




Fluid Abstract Painting
Fig 4 Art Class Fluid Abstract Painting



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