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A Definition of Art and What Being an Artist Means

This is a quote from a conversation between Seth Godin and Mary Jaksch.

For a long time, my definition of art was conventional. It was limited to those people who

  • made pictures whether painted, drawn, or photographed
  • wrote poems, or stories, or novels
  • played an instrument, or sang
  • acted on the stage or screen.

For me, these were the Artists making ART.

Seth Godin’s thoughts on what art is better reflects how I feel about this now.

Art is personal and subjective. Art is much broader than developing and using a specific set of skills; skills that take time to develop and require some innate talent.

What Godin suggests is that any human pursuit (gardening, cooking, computer programming) can be elevated to an expressive level. Any pursuit can inspire and transcend our perceived limitation of everyday life. This expanded definition of art acknowledges that the  ability to express that special quality of human experience rests just beneath the surface and is available to all of us.

Being an artist, in this broader sense, is something that we should encourage in ourselves and in others.

To me it’s important to let creativity surface in an organic way nurtured by the many facets of my life. At this moment of my life, origami is one way for me to be creative. We should let creativity take us where it might, regardless of the medium we choose to work in.

How about you? How do you feel about Seth Godin’s definition of art? What is your own definition of art?

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Photo: Origami Ladybug, designed by Leyla Torres

15 thoughts on “A Definition of Art and What Being an Artist Means”

    • I think that all courage is one courage… we all have to fight our own battles. When we compare them with other people struggle’s, they might seem bigger or smaller. Best not to compare but accept and go through our fights just the way they are presented to ourselves. Breath easy and don’t be so harsh on yourself. Every human struggle is worthy and part of the big life. Small courage is courage nonetheless. All experiences make us learn to live.

  1. Thanks for your answer Leyla :)
    Life takes courage… right. But how does it comes that some people put their courage into fight for justice, truth, wellness of humanity, all high values, etc. and other people have to struggle and find courage just for tiny things … ? Sometimes it’s seems to me like it’s “ridiculous” and individualist in comparaison.

  2. Art deals with generosity, imagination… and action too ! For me it’s putting out something thas is in your inner world (i don’t know if it’s very english…). It can touch a kind of pepole, and touch not other people… It’s a question of sensibility.
    i’m not an “artist”, but i make some stuff with origami : cards, guirlands, etc. I don’t creat my owm models, but I use existing models. For me, it was very difficult at the begging to show to people my work. Like a feeling of modesty or shame… It’s weird ! it was because i didn’t want to “expose” myself to their judgement. But now i know they like my job, i feel free to innovate, ask them what they think about this or that, about what they want to see, etc.
    An other thing with origami : i’m quite a anxious person, that make everything with speed, no patience in real life, etc. And i don’t know why i had a cruch with this paper art because it require all the contrary ! And i found into myself a certain type of patience, perseverance, zen attitude… for me it’s a mystery :)

    • Hi Jihane,
      When we start showing others our work we always feel exposed and vulnerable, but in time our courage pays off and builds confidence. Then suddenly we notice that we are influencing people in a positive way and that is what matters. Art is bringing out that which is deep and divine and cheer people up to do the same. Living life takes courage! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us here.

  3. In my view, art is any effort that an individual performs to communicate an understanding (of life, nature, the universe, order, disorder, beauty, truth, violence, or any conscious or non-conscious message) to oneself or to others. Whenever there is art, there should be an audience that is trying to grasp the message of the artist. I believe is is true even for “mere” ornamentation. And often it is the unconscious messages that are most interesting or important. The artist himself/herself may not be fully aware of the messages that lie beneath the surface within their own artwork.

    It is interesting to note that the appreciation of beauty and order evolves, and art which communicates truth or beauty or also evolves. By my definition the philosophy of Plato would qualify as art (word art?). Likewise the mathematics of Descartes. But many artists have also been philosophers or mathematicians. The lines are blurred and that should be fine. I think the Elements of Euclid should qualify as art.

    What is quite interesting is how someone like Johannes Sebastian Bach can communicate so deeply to people of different historical periods with such incredible grace and power. How the Mona Lisa never loses its subtle mysterious compelling “importance”. How the Taj Mahal conveys its inner harmony across centuries. In these cases we see the importance of the tradition of art, so that an individual artist carries the tradition forward to new heights and depths.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughtful, quite inclusive, definition of art. I remember years ago reading a book by Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1980)
      She said that artists were like rivers, streams or creeks, but no matter their size, their water was a contribution to the big ocean. The tasks of the artist are to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation by creating.
      Her words gave me inspiration to continue creating no matter the size of my own river, and no matter the medium.

  4. I agree that art is absolute personal thing, but offers to other people who have same wit to enjoy. I love origami, but just know how to follow steps to learn from other origami artist, I am not a creative people, but adore all beautiful things other people who are talented at some kind of arts. I agree with Godin’s statement, Art is not based on what other people loves.

    • I think that even if we are following steps to fold other people’s origami models, we can be creative in small ways… the choice of origami paper, the choice of color, the finishing touches always add something very personal to each origami model.

      When we follow steps, we are interpreting and there is art in that too.

  5. “Art is anything that is done well.” This is my favorite definition of art. It could apply to sweeping the floor, baking bread, planting a garden, or painting the Sistine Chapel. It certainly applies to your lovely paper art! Thank you for sharing all your wonderful art. Mary


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