What is Art?

This is only my personal definition of art. It is not to be read as an absolute truth, just a point of view to be agreed or disagreed with.

Art is the application of skill to design

Great art is the application of skill with humanity to design

Below are the definitions of the word art and a history of its use. This has been taken from the Greater Oxford Dictionary


Skill; its display or application. (no plural)

1. Skill in doing anything as the result of knowledge and practice.

1225 Tell me your art…
1340 Couth never tell, by clergy, ne art…be thousand part
1539 Art or cunning every country nourishes
1611 (bible) Gold or silver, or stone graven by art
1663 Else when with greatest art he spoke, you’d think he talked like other folk
1718 The copious accents fall with easy art
1849 The potato, a root which can be cultivated with scarcely an art

2. a. Human skill as an agent, human workmanship. Opposed to nature
1386 Nature and art
1573 Nature herself is changeable…and art, after a sorte her ape, conforms herself to the like mutabilyte
1592 Now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature (Romeo and Juliet)
1643 (Sir T. Browne) Now nature is not at variance with art, nor art with anture: they being both the servants of his providence. Art is the perfection of nature…nature hath made one world, and art another. In brief, all things are artificial, for nature is the art of god.
1699 Art my err, but nature cannot miss
1742 Youth’s soft notes unspoiled by art
1839 Nature is a revelation of God; art a revelation of man…art pre-exists in nature, and nature is reproduced in art (Longf. Hyperion III)

b. Artifice, artificial expedient
1667 That some of the natives there can stay under water half an hour without any art

3. The learning of the schools (see 7)

1. The ‘trivium’, or one of it’s subjects, grammar, logic, rhetoric; dialects.
1305 Of art he ‘radde six zer’
1330 Of art he had the mastery
1430 Grammar forsothe us the route, but art passes in his degree
1573 It makes no matter how a man ‘wrytith’ untoe his friends…’Praeceptes’ of art and style and decorum…are to be reserved for another place

Scholarship, learning, science
1588 Where all those pleasures lie, that art would comprehend (Shakespeare)
1675 A mathematician can infallibly know, by the rules of art, that the three anglesof a right triangle are equal to two right angles.
1709 So vast is life, so narrow human wit.
1840 Art is long, time is fleeting.

words or terms of art: words peculiar to, or having a peculiar use in, a particular art or pursuit; technical terms
1628 The terms and words of art
1701 By which he bought many of them, as the term of art was then, to’Philppize’
1754 If we use the words, as Terms of Art, in another sense
1807 Explanation of the Terms of Art in Anatomy
1816 A few thumping blustering terms of art

4. Skill in applying the principles of a special science; technical or professional skill
1300 ‘Thyn erbes faileth and thyn art
1393 Astronomers all day – in here art faillen
1605 Tell me, if your Art can tell so much (Macbeth)
1656 Without sufficient knowledge in point of art
1677 Work, in which they have taken a great deal of pains, and used a great deal of Art

5. The application of skill to subjects of taste, as poetry, music, dancing, the drama, oratory, literary composition, and the like; especially in modern use: Skill displaying itself in perfection of execution as an object in itself ‘art for arts sake’
1620 …and Shakespeare did in art excel
1675 Art…more frequently appears in fiddling and dancing, than in noble deeds
1711 Remarking what this mighty genius and judge of art declares concerning tragedy
1840 It is just such art as this that we ask of the preacher…that he shall take diligent heed to do what he has to do as well as he can
1867 If I were to define Art, I should be inclined to call it the endeavor after perfection in execution
1872 The well known formula of art for art’s sake…has, like other doctrines, a true side to it, and an untrue (Swinburne Ess & Stud)
1879 We mean by art, not merely an aim to please, but also a law of pure and flawless workmanship.
1920 There it stands, this old art, the purest monument to the nullity of the art-for-art’s sake doctrine (Pract.  & Theory of Bolshevism)
1925 I was not an art-for-arter (A. Huxley)
1928 We’re frankly missionaries, not an art for art concern (Point Counter Point)
1937 Our leading writers, who a dozen years ago were art for art’s saking for all they were worth…are now taking a definite political standpoint (George Orwell)
1942 The first exponents of ‘art for art’ did not, as do their descendants, uphold the claims of the senses abstractly and in isolation.
1948 Ulysses represents the extreme of the art-for-arts sake doctrine
1950 The advocate of the practical Shakespeare, allied on this occaision with the art-for-art’s saker, says…

6. The application of skill to the arts of imitation and design, painting, engraving, sculpture, architecture; the cultivation of these in its principles, practice, and results; the skilful production of the beautiful in visible forms

This is the most usual modern sense of art, when used without any qualification. It does not occur in any english dictionary before 1880, and seems to have been chiefly used by painters and writers on painting, until the present century
1668 An Idea of the Perfection of Painting demonstrated from the Principles of Art
1700 (about) From hence the rudiments of art began, a coal or chalk first imitated man
1777 c A solid manly taste for real art, in place of our contemptibl passion for daubing
1801 Greek Art had her infancy
1834 It is proposed to form an Association for the purchase of works of art.
1848 Sacred and Legendary Art
1856 High Art differes from low art in possessing an excess of beauty in addition to its truth, not in possessing excess of beauty inconsistent with truth
1869 By the term Art, I understand the production of beauty in material forms palpable; whether associated with industrial purposes or not
1876 The coins of Greece and Rome form in themselves a complete history of Art

Anything wherein skill may be attained or displayed. Singular; an art. Plural arts

7. a. Certain branches of learning which are of the nature of intellectual instruments or apparatus for more advanced studies, or for the work of life; their main principles having been already investigated and established, they are in the position of subjects requiring only to be acquired and practised. Applied in the Middle Ages to ‘the trivium and quadrivium, a course of seven sciences, introduced in the sixth century…the trivium contained grammar, logic, and rhetoric; the quadrivium artithmatic, geometry, music, and astronomy’; called also the free or liberal arts. Hence the ‘faculty’ of arts, and arts ‘curriculum’ embracing the portions of these, with subsequent additions and alterations, still studeied at the Universities and the degrees of ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Master of Arts’ conferred upon students who attain to a prescribed standard of proficiency in these branches of knowledge, or, as it is called, ‘graduate in arts’
1300 c. The seventh master taught his pars, and the with of the seven arts.
1305 c. here has none of the soue arts but ‘heo gret clerk of nas’
1320 c. And eke all the seven arts
1377 He has wedded a wife…is ‘sybb to be seune artz’
1400 c. Cassandra…enfourmet was faire of befre artis
1425 c. Master of Art
1503 I am ground of the arts seven
1557 They…beat their wits night and day in the arts liberal
1579 He being a Master in all the seven liberal arts, is not so ignorant in grammar
1594 Moreover, mans life is very short, and the arts long and toilsome
1608 My education been in arts and arms
1795  How many professors are stationed to the three faculties, and how many are left for the liberal arts?
1794 Four faculties…Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law, and the Arts…The Arts, under which was comprehended logic, physics, and morals, were considerd as a necessary introduction to the learned professions.
1868 The first seven years…were employed on studies, which varying in their nature in various periods of the university history went under the common name of ‘Arts’
1912 I defiantly abandoned the thought of Divinity Training till at least an Arts Degree is won.
1946 The Arts faculties ought to include sufficient knowledge of general science to provide a general appreciation of science and the scientific method as applied to the problems of daily life.
1960 It should be possible to make scientists literate and arts men ‘numerate’
1967 Granta’s characteristic role in the sixties has been as an avant-garde arts magazine

b. Any one of the above-mentioned subjects
1300 c. That this arts [astrology] we understood…was in this arts, and malicious
1450 c. An art that is ‘cleped astronomye’

8. A practical application of any science; a body or system of rules serving to facilitate the carrying out of certain principles. In this sense often contrasted with science
1489 Among other noble arts and sciences
1538 c. Schools in every art, science and craft
1588 An art is a methodical disposition of true and coherent precepts, for the more easier perceiving and better remembering of the same
1599 So that the Art and Practice part of life must be the Misstress to this Theory (Henry V)
1724 This is the most remarkable distinction between an art and a science, the one refers chiefly to practice, the other to speculation
1825 …to every art, there is at least onebranch of science; correspondent to every branch of science, there is at least one branch of art
1852 Agriculture is little known asa science in any part of America, and but imperfectly understood as an art
1870 A science teaches us to know and an art to do (Jevons, Elementary Logic)

9. a. An Industrial pursuit or employment of a skilled nature; a craft, business, profession.
1393 Artificers which use crafts and masters, whose art is ‘cleped mechanique’
1557 …apply your business and art
1660 Arts of three kinds. The first digs out metals, and fells wood.
1705 The fisherman can’t employ their Art with so much success in so troubled a sea
1745 To be taught the art and mystery which his master engages to learn him
1851 Aboriginal learners slowly acquiring the new art

b. A guild, or company of craftsmen
1832 these men belonging to the woollen art
1872 The industry of the free republic was controlled by guilds or arts (Yeats)

10. A pursuit or occupation in which skill is directed towards the gratification of taste or production of what is beautiful. ‘the fine arts’
1597 see 11b
1769 There is a general desire among our nobility to be distinguishe as lovers and judges of the arts
1778 All arts having the same general end, which is to please
1827 The true Italian feeling for the arts
1842 The sister Art that speaks in stone
1884 You will speak only of music, extolling this art above all others (Punch)

11. In prec. Senses, but particularized: -
a. by an adjective, as magic art, military art, the healing art, industrial, mechanical useful arts: those in which the hands and body are more concerned than the mind. Fine arts those in which the mind and imagination are chiefly concerned

1393 The experience of art magic
1611 The illusions of art magic
1667 Smithing is an art manual
1697 My song to flowerygardens might extend, to teach the vegetable arts
1711 How an Amazon should be versed in the Black Art
1734 A treatise…upon the art military
1767 They…wanted instruction in the principles of the Fine Arts
1785 The fine arts are very properly called the arts of taste
1854 Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together (Ruskin)
1884 The Reform Bill was defeated by obstruction, though at that period the art of obstruction was not so much of a fine art as it was now

b. by a genitive or genitive phras, as ‘the painter’s art’ ‘The art of painting’
1509 Set with magics art
1560 Spices made by the art of the Apoticarie
1611 Apothecaries art
1597 The art of dancing being come to that perfection
1691 The art of making gold
1774 The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest (Jefferson)
1821 The soldier’s dextrous art
1849 The rapid improvement, both of the art of war and of the art of navigation
1875 To have encouraged the potter’s art

12. An acquired faculty of any kind; a power of doing anything wherein skill is attainable by study and practice; a knack
1637 I thought the guiding of grace had been no art
1849 The art of saying things well is useless to a man who has nothing to say
1876 The delicate art of verbal selection

13. Studied conduct or action, especially such as seeks to attain its ends by artificial, indirect, or covert means; address; cunning, artfulness

1600 c. Use power with power and slay me not by art…what need’st though wound with cunning when thy might is more (Shakespeare)
1738 Smile without art, and win without a bribe
1762 I am incapable of art
1801 Her art and falsehood operated against her own views

14. An artifice, contrivance, stratagem, wile, trick, cunning device
1597 His passion but an art of craft, even there resolved my reason into tears (Shakespeare)
1625 Atributing Arts or Policy to Augustus and Dissimulation to Tiberius
1681 The next sucessor…My arts have made obnoxious to the State
1712 All the little arts imaginable are used to soften a man’s heart
1769 All the arts of address and policy
1813 The arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation (Pride
and Prejudice)
1849 No art was spared which could draw Monmouth from retreat

IV Phrases

15. art-of-memory: an old game of cards (1709)

1674 This Art of Memory is a sport at which men may play drunk for money, but it is most commonly the way to play the drunkard

16. art and part

a. Originally such expressions as to be concerned in by act or part, either by contriving it

b. corruptly to be art or part in; to be concerned either in the contrivane or the execution of; to be art and part in: to be accessory both by contrivance and participation, often used loosely, as a mere jingling phrase for ‘accessrary, participating, sharing’

1425 be art or part or swike (a)
1882 Thame that has been foirfaltit for art and part of the slaughter
1609 Thou thy self full art had, and part in harming and scathing of me
1670 …who had art and part, as Scottish indictment runs…
1767 He had neither art nor part in this frightful discomfiture
1864 He has no further art or part in the matter
1515 He salbe halden airt and partaker of his evil deeds (b)
1536 if ever I was either art or part of Alarudis’ slaughter
1691 Art and Part is a term used in Scotland and the North of England
1753 Find unanimously, th panel James Stewart guilty, art and part, of the murder…
1876 The law of Scotland makes no distinction between the accessory to any crime (art and part) and the principal
1878 You are art and part with us in purging heresey

17. arts and crafts: The arts of decorative design and handicraft
1888 The Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the New Gallery…may be best described as an exhibition with a purpose
1894 The impression…on the mind of a person who had previously had little experience of collective ‘arts and crafts’ may not be without practical value
1899 The newly formed association was at first known by the name of the Combined Arts. The name of the Arts and Crafts was the invention of Mr Cobden Sanderson
1909 An art and crafty tea table
1939 The fervant mediaevalism…found its final expression in the arts and crafts movement
1943 Short blunt fingers prickly with big art-and-crafty rings (G. Greene)
1957 The arts-and-craftsy, self-conscious supervision, patronage, and spurious jollity given to morris dancing…in England


chiefly from sense, as art-activity, -appreciation, -collecting…-teaching. Also art centre; art director, one who is responsible for the décor, properties, scene-painting etc in a theatre or in cinematographic films; art editor, one who is responsible for the illustrations or the section devoted to to the arts in a book, magazine etc; art educate, to educated in the arts of design; art-form an established form taken by a work of art; a theme or motif constituting a traditional subject of works of art; art gallery; art history, the history of art; art object, an object of artistic value; Arts Council, an organization established…in 1946 to promote…the development and appreciation of the arts; art square; art union
1923 The rhythm of American art-activity is dual
1937 General hints on art-appreciation
1908 London, the acknowledged art-centre of the world
1967 One of those exclusive civic centres or art centres in the South Kensington…tradition
1902 They acted as a most healthy stimulus to art collecting (Encyclopedia Brittannia)
1936 The Veronese art-collector…
1904 …have made him…as an art-connoisseur and critic
1882 I would undertake to be your art-correspondent for London and Paris (O. Wilde)
1865 The art critics original dicta (Rossetti)
1866 I should certainly have liked to consult our great modern art-critic before makingso daring a statement
1879 …as any art-critic could possibly wish them to be
1944 Read has always been more artist ahan art critic
1936 Extensive art-historical and art critical work
1880 A sample of the ‘first manner’ (to speak art critically)
1867 …in the tone and character of art-criticism
1891 It is only in art-criticism and through it we can apprehend the Platonic theory of ideas (Wilde)
1935 The…scrutiny of modern art-criticism
1934 The young art-dealer…
1933 …in the world of the movie art-director
1933 …the first art-director to do so
1923 Kennington art-edits the blocks
1877 …news relating to art in the hands of the art editor
1941 The art editors of the commission are not entirely awaye why a good photograph is good…
1880 It has never been thought worth while to art educate the workman
1868 An intellectual attraction for very sharp and pure dialectic orm in other matter, hard and telling art-forms
1887 …suggested the art-form or myth of Odysseus and the Sirens
1894 This type of musical farce is not an elevating or intellectual art form
1928 Anglo Saxon poetry is already a highly developed art form
1929 The Film, the Art Form of the Future
1952 Before the crosses were finally eclipsed as an art form…
1870 Little more than a pretty piece of art furniture
1845 Something of the splendour or the rarities of the metropolis; its public buildings…and galleries of art
1860 The scheme should comprise a central reference library…a museum and gallery of art
1863 The Fine Art Gallery now being erected
1865 …to deposit in the Art Gallery several valuable pictures…
1885 every public library…should have a connection with it a museum and art an art gallery
1946 This year of victory saw  the gradual resumption of their normal functions by most of our public art galleries and museums
1890 The Greeks…wrote essays on art, and produced their art historians (Wilde)
1907 …the most thorough piece of art historian work that was ever produced
1957The writer is an archaeologist and historian of art, not an ‘art historian’
1933 The whole tendency of their art historical studies has been to regard works…
1874 …though not strictly within the limits of art history
1876 …drawn from a narrow area of art-history
1927 The genius is so rare in art history
1891 She has not merely art, consummate art-instinct, in her, but she has personality also (Wilde – Dorian Gray)
1857 A certain quantity of art intellect is born annually in every nation
1862 The very starting point of the boys art life
1876 the splendid and elaborate art life of the people
1874 This is…what artists  and art lovers will thank him for
1861 The haunts in Rome which are best loved by art loving strangers
1934 The English might have a reputable art magazine
1928 I envy you art mongers your success (Huxely)
1856 If the money was spent in the art museums of France…
1857 As a national art museum…
1904 Everyone has remarked how very flat the picture market has been compared
with the object d’art
1913 Arab glass…is the rarest art object in the world (TE Lawrence)
1962 different ways of looking at a house…as an art object
1905 …reflection of light…from…art papers
1958  …coated paper (that is, so called art paper)
1904 All his dealings with the art products of mankind
1882 Art and Art Sales in England
1902 The greatest art sale in the annals of Great Britain
1866 The Universities do not teach art, the art schools do not teach anything else
1935 Groups drawn from art schools
1945…the council for…the Arts is to continue after the war under a new name
1951 The defined purposes of the Arts Council…are to develop a greater knowledge,
understanding and practice of the fine arts…
1957 The Halle’s experience with an arts council grant
1967 New charter of incorporation of arts council of Gt Britain
1984 When the arts council came to launch its new initiateve…
1902 Parquet carpets and ‘Art Squares’
1849 In ordinary times there resides at Paris a numerous body of artists and Art students
1934 What happened in the great art-styles happens also in cultures as a whole
1872 The least part of the work of any sound art teacher must be his talking
1857 The most singular concentration of art teaching and art treasure
The picture which most truly deserves the name of an art treasure
1837 Art Union of Scotland
1839 All good fortune to the art union
1849 the undersigned guarantees the…sums of 50 pounds and 40 pounds to the
drawers of the 1st and 2nd Prizes, in his art union (Sydney morning herald)
1851 A notice about an art union print (Rossetti)
1868 Scotland preceded England in the establishment of art unions
1931 Here we have art unions…
1948 …unless her ship came home and she won an art union
1966 A Scottish couple…yesterday won first prize in a Queensland consultation, the Scarborough art union (Courier Mail)
1880 The art workman who have studied in our schools of design
1890 …saw the culmination of a new movement in the art world of Paris

19. a. Designed to produce an artistic effect, as art furniture, etc.
1868 …Donkin’s art furniture
1870 Art furniture
1879 Your last piece of art needlework
1880 It was first established…under the title of School of Art needlework
1881 …a soft downy fabric…comes in all the art shades
1885 Don’t you love art needlework?
1887 Some exquisitely fine fabric in an art shade of Indian red
1887 Liberty art fabrics
1893 What she called an art frock
1894 Marcella wore art serges and velveteens
1895 Chintzes art blinds…
1897 Great art pottery establishments
1900 A yard or so of art muslin
1930 Curtains of art serge and bilious green

b. Produced by an artist, composed with conscious artistry: said of poetry and music,
1890 Schubert was the creator of the art song
1934 Art music
1940 artify
1950 Ballad music, like other folk music, sounds strange to anyone familiar only with modern art song, in which the practice is to make the musical stresses correspond to the speech stresses
1959 The songs of these shows are closer to art songs than they are to Tin Pan Alley

c. Applied to a theatre, cinema etc specializing in consciously artistic productions opposite to popular; hence art film
1929 …of the Munich art theatre
1932 …Craigs success at the Moscow Art Theatre
1933 The studio or art theatre exists…to prevent dramatic art being wiped out by the commercially minded
1944 The radio play…is competing with the soviet art cinema rather than with Hollywood
1959 The most the art house circuit can do is $600,000
1960 French art film makers…spin romantic webs around works of art
1962 Films as sher entertainment…are slowly being ousted by these art films
1967 The latin quarter is rich in art cinemas

art, the  French equivalent, occurring in certain phrases used in English contexts, as:

a. art autre
1959 Art autre makes painting a truly visual art (Vogue)
1963 Official taste remains complacently becalmed at action painting and art autre

b. art brut, Primitive or unsophisticated art
1955 intensified interest in l’art brut, the work of prisoners, mediums, the insane and other non-professionals
1960 A certain aestheticism, under the obligatory roughness of art brut is discernible

c. art deco [abbreviation of art decorative], literally ‘decorative art’, popular in the 1920s and 1930s, characterized by geometric shapes and harsh colours
1966 …which highlighted the style now known by connoisseurs as art deco
1968 Art deco can be held to cover the ballet russe…as well as the architectural nudism of Le Corbusier
1972 Art Deco…might best be characterized as…
1979 Where art nouveau relished the sinuous line, art deco went in for angularity (Gombrich)
1985 However…a rather splendid art deco house has been found as a replacement

d. art mobiler [portable art]
1946 …indicate…that the art mobilier of the Iberian Peninsula has, to some extent, its counterpart in Ireland also
1959 The famous art mobilier which is found together with the implements and other occupation material

e. art moderne
1934 …art moderne ashtrays, etc
1937 …Atrocious bits of art moderne

f. art nouveau. A style of art developed in the last decade of the 19th century, characterized by the free use of ornament based on organic or foliate forms and by its flowing lines and curves
1899 l’art Nouveau
1901 …specimens of the work styled art nouveau
1908 A model cemetery with art nouveau tombstones
1909 The art nouveau…
1928 ..lettered in the best style of art nouveau
1939 …and most deplorably, in art nouveau
1939 …representing the three graces in art nouveau style