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What really makes something art?

It's a question that the artist and the art viewer must ultimately consider at some point. You can put it off, go on saying that everything is art or that it's art if they say it is. But that's what it is—it's a cop-out, a stubborn response to a world that has done something strange and called it important.

So here's what art is: Art is emotion made substance. Now that creates a few problems that various cultural philosophers and university professors have wrangled with over time: Does that mean the artist defines what is art? Does it mean that the viewer does? The answer to both questions is "Yes".

If an artist isn't turning an emotion of his into a substance, he's not making art. In reality, at that point in time he's not an artist for it. That's why mass-produced art fails, at least to a degree. The act of mass-production dilutes that connection, stops the infusion of emotion into the works. An artist who tries to pass off something he has created but didn't put that emotion into is a fraud. He can be the most skilled craftsman in the universe, but he's still a fraud for abusing the notion of art.

But art doesn't stay locked up in a studio. It's all but worthless in there. So then the torch is passed to the viewer, and he also must feel the emotion in the work. It doesn't even have to be the same emotion. What matters is that something is there. When the viewer sees it, then he sees art.

So, yes, this does mean that there's little possibility of creating a consensus on art. It does mean, at least in theory, that anything can be art. But it also means that, in practice, a lot of things aren't art—even if they look pretty.

Nobody said it was easy.

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