Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’s Terms of Art #3: Art


Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

Terms of Art #3:

Pronunciation: like “heart” but no “h”

Definition: Ha! You thought I was going to give you a definition of art? Get real.

Still, when philosophers talk about “art”, we mean it very inclusively. We mean paintings and sculpture and other stuff that appears in art museums, but also music, literature, plays, dance, architecture, ceramics, fashion, and more.

Some cases to get your mind noodling:


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1950 replica of 1917 original) [source]

  • Representational vs. abstract art
    Honestly, this shouldn’t be a tough one. Abstract art is definitely art.
  • Readymades and found objects
    Duchamp’s Fountain vs. an actual urinal
  • Performances
    live happenings, performance art, or social practice art
  • “Art” made by computers
    Google Deep Dream or computer-generated poetry
  • Art” made by animals
  • Fine arts vs. applied arts
    paintings and music vs. architecture and graphic design
  • Folk art
    Art objects produced outside the artworld industry
  • Food
    Food in general, but also: fine dining vs. McDonald’s vs. your grandma’s cherished recipes

Some general issues that might make a difference in whether something counts as art:

  • Does it express something?
  • Does it (successfully?) communicate something to others?
  • Is it made by someone, maybe through an exercise of imagination, skill, etc.?
  • Did the maker intend it to be received as art?
  • Is it situated in the artworld or in society in the right way?

Not to be confused with:
(1) *Good* art. Something can be art and be bad. Don’t be one of those people who uses “art” as an honorific. You’ll just confuse yourself and others about what is/isn’t actually art.
(2) archaic second person conjugation of to be; e.g., “Art thou bored?” (Remixed below!)


  1. I needed this post today! Thank you <3

  2. Surely the definitive statement on what is art is provided by James Franco in the film This is the End?

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.