Arts Funding – What Is Art?


Last week, I officially set myself on a path of discovery I have wanted to explore for quite some time. I began with these questions:


What if the arts are not superfluous?

What if the arts are not only “not superfluous” – what if art is essential to our very being?

What if the arts are not only “not superfluous” – what if art is the most important thing funders can fund?

What if negating the arts, de-funding the arts, ignoring the arts – what if that is the root cause of a great majority of our current woes?

Ever the facilitator, however, I know there is a precursor question that must be asked first:

What is art?

Level-1 dictionary definitions typically relate art to aesthetics, beauty. Even Wikipedia uses its very first line of definition to talk about “appealing to the senses.”

But certainly that is not what art is at its core. We all know art that is neither beautiful nor aesthetically pleasing, which even the most philistine among us would concede is, in fact, art – just perhaps not to their liking. (Fred Babb’s fabulous t-shirt, “Good art won’t match your sofa” comes to mind…)

Art can be a play whose set is ugly and characters uglier. Art can be a movie that is emotionally painful to watch as it unfolds. Art can be a painting that shakes us to the core. They may not be pretty, but often there is no denying it is art.

A story handed down from mother to child? A crude drawing by Picasso? The meandering song of a contented 3-year-old? A dashboard-full of rubber ducks?

What is art?

If we acknowledge that the ability to produce “art” is one of the things that separates humans from other animals, what, then, is “art?”

Possible answers run through my head.

Art is how we express our spirit, our humanity.
Art is how we interpret our world.
Art is the lens through which we filter what we experience.
Art is the expression and reflection of what it is to be human.
Art is how we answer questions for which we have no answers.

But am I even close?

We argue that the arts are important. We argue that this is so, not simply because of what the arts mean to the economy, but simply because art in and of itself is important.

This thing that is so important, that separates us from other animals…What is it, oh artists and readers of this blog?

What is this thing we call “art?”

Photo Credits:
Mad Dash: Me
Whichever She Got to First: Lizzie Sam

2 Responses to Arts Funding – What Is Art?

  1. As mentioned to Hildy last week, Canada currently has a federal government that has been cancelling many sources of support for arts organizations. The Harper government shows zero understanding of the value of the arts to Canada and Canadians. Worse, many Canadians seem to think that is just fine, and his support went UP. This for a party that has damaged Canada in many other ways in the last four years, and I would have hoped every Canadian would be glad to see the end of him. Sigh.

    Through media coverage and a major rally of arts leaders in Toronto yesterday, the case is starting to be made for the arts. I really, really hope that people think about their quality of life without theatres, music, art, festivals and more in the community, as well as the negatives for Canada internationally. I hope every Canadian who cares about quality of life will be voting Liberal (or Green where the Liberals are not running). They are our only hope for replacing the Harper government with one that cares about Canadians.

  2. Jane:
    Thanks! Here is what I have been wondering, which is what makes me crazy about the things you are sharing here – not dissimilar to what has happened in the US.

    When we consider “the arts” as theater, museums, art fairs – that is all sort of “elitist” sounding. (Count me among those elitists, BTW, with season tickets and memberships and etc.) But it makes it very easy to discount it as irrelevant.

    But if art is instead something far more than those events and showings – if it is instead something that every single human being does in some manner – then that is potentially a very different story. If art is more than the ballet and such, then taking away “the arts” is taking away something that is enjoyed / needed by people beyond those raised on the ballet.

    That is why to me, this is not an esoteric question. Is there something at the core of who we are as humans that “the arts” are all about? Is it possible that taking away “the arts” takes away something that is part of the very being of each of us?

    Because if that is true, then there is absolutely a link between “the arts” and everything we see as social problems – homelessness, substance abuse, crime.

    Which brings me back to asking: What is art? And why have we humans been given this compulsion to create it? What does “creating art” mean to us as a species? Why do we have this ability? And what exactly is the ability – what is it, precisely, we are doing?

    What is art?