Artworks are created in a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, photography, video, architecture, and digital art. Artworks are objects of beauty and a crucial component of culture, transmitting ideas and values that are inherent in every culture across space and time. The study of art requires a thorough understanding of specific artistic techniques, as well as an awareness of the ways in which artists and viewers interpret and evaluate artworks.
Artwork is a highly personal and subjective concept, which makes it difficult to define. Various attempts at definitions of art have been made, and none of them is without controversy or debate. The definition of art is important because it influences how the medium is used, the way artists create works, and how the public perceives them.
A definition of art is a key issue in philosophy of art, a philosophical field that analyzes the nature and purpose of artworks. Several different types of art definitions exist, ranging from formal properties (e.g., shape, line, and color) to expressiveness and meaning, and from the way in which art is viewed to the way in which it functions as a social institution.
Many of the most contentious issues in the philosophy of art revolve around a few basic questions: What is art? How does it differ from other objects or activities? How does it achieve its special status in a society? A philosopher’s answers to these questions will be influenced by the type of art definition employed.
One of the most common types of art definition is the institutional, or “conventional” definition. This approach typically holds that something is an artwork if and only if it is an object in the possession of an artworld public and if it displays some resemblance to certain paradigm artworks. It is a synchronic view, since it identifies the objects in question by their artworld public and their art-historical relationships to one another.
Alternatively, some think that a work of art is an object that exhibits both the fact that it was created by a human being and its significance to human culture. This is the Hegelian account of art, in which the purpose of an artwork is to convey, through sensory/perceptual means, the deepest metaphysical truths – that what is conceptual or rational is real, and that this reality is superior to natural beauty.
Others believe that an attempt to make a list of the individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for things to be considered artworks is hopeless, given the way in which humans categorize things – based on their similarity to prototypes or exemplars. Thus, a new universe of discourse is needed if it is to be possible to state what constitutes an artwork (Boyd 2003). Yet another group of philosophers argues that the concepts that are the building blocks of most art definitions (e.g., expressiveness, form) are part of a larger set of traditional metaphysics and epistemology that has gone wrong, and that the quest for a definition of art should therefore be abandoned as a dead-end street (Stock 2003).