Out of the Ambiguous: What Exactly is Art?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to global upheavals and political reckonings.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to global upheavals and political reckonings. However, a different issue pressures us individuals staying inside the house: being disconnected. Disconnecting from one another is daunting, but many have found solace in art. "Art" is often used to describe what we traditionally conceive of as art, such as visual arts and performing arts. However, the "art" I'm referring to has another important definition. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, art is a "skill acquired by experience, study, or observation." To me, art is not just a painting on a wall or a sculpture on the ground, but the culmination of the time, effort, revision, and passion that individuals dedicate to their craft.

We don't all have to pick up a paintbrush or perform on a stage to find ourselves engaging with art. Thinking about any kind of activity through the lens of putting effort and passion into creating a piece of work can give the activity a whole new artistic meaning. For example, some may find that solving a complex math equation requires a certain level of attention, detail, and dedication. For them, allotting time and effort to solving the equation makes the process a form of artistic engagement. A football player may find the same satisfaction in running a complex play that a painter would in finding the perfect color combination for a painting. While the activity and the technical skills required differ, each creator culminates his or her efforts into producing a piece of work, thereby engaging with his or her own artistic process and subsequently creating his or her own form of art. While we are not all visual or performing artists, pouring time and effort into fields that we feel passionate about can establish those passions as artistic mediums through which we express ourselves.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi used the phrase "the concept of flow" to describe an individual's complete immersion in an activity. "Flow" is what allows athletes to break world records, artists to sit down and paint for several hours straight, and scholars to research and write for days. According to Csikszentmihalyi, "flow" is "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." Ultimately, "flow" pulls people into complete dedication and attention to their activity. Just imagine a musician, immersed in music as he or she sits at the piano, or the adrenaline and determination of a runner who reaches the finish line of a marathon. The state of "flow" is a process that combines time, effort, revision, and passion. Thus, when one reaches a state of "flow," no matter what activity he or she chooses to do, it becomes a creation of art and the product becomes a piece of art.

I myself have been engaged in music and visual arts for a long time. Only recently have I begun to enjoy spending hours on a painting, or practicing a piece over and over again. During practice, I would eventually discover a wholly different way to play a melody, or finally perfect a line that never sounded just right after numerous attempts at a passage. There is a deeper, more personal satisfaction in achieving mastery after watching a craft evolve through time and experience. We find our own forms of art everywhere. Perhaps art appears in the thinking behind one chess move, the skill required for ten free-throws in a row, or the writing of a deeply touching poem. The point is, art doesn't have to culminate into a "traditional" art form, such as a painting or a dance. Viewing diverse passions through the lens of personal commitment and dedication is a way of appreciating them as intangible and long-lasting forms of art.


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