In the humanities, an artwork is a creative work that has been given special status by its creators, societies, or religions. Artworks are created with the intention of evoking emotion and inspiring reflection and debate. Artworks can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, music, architecture, or a combination of these and other creative media.
In some cases, a work of art is considered to be so significant that it changes the world in which we live or creates a new culture entirely. Jean-Francois Millet’s painting The Gleaners, for example, depicts peasant women gleaning from the fields after harvest, an image that was not well received by the upper classes of French society.
It is widely accepted that art has a therapeutic effect. It can increase self-esteem, improve social behavior and decrease symptoms in dementia patients, according to a recent study. It also stimulates the entire brain and encourages higher levels of thinking. However, it is important to understand that creating artwork does not necessarily have the same health benefits as viewing it.
Various theories about what constitutes an artwork have been developed over time. Some of these theories are more sophisticated than others. One of the most popular is the notion that an artwork satisfies a set of functional properties. Another is that it must resemble certain “paradigm” works. Still others assert that a piece is an artwork because it fulfills some unspecified function, like challenging assumptions or making people think about issues that they may not have thought of before.
These definitions tend to be nebulous, and a major worry is that they lack genuine unity. For example, the enumerative definitions of an artwork are notoriously bloated and unwieldy (Dickie 1984).
More refined theories have emerged. For instance, a key idea in the analytic philosophy of art is that the concept of an artwork must be understood in terms of its generative properties. In this view, a work is an artwork if and only if it generates a certain sort of functionally productive structure in the minds of its viewers (Schecker 1997 and 2005).
It has been argued that conventionalist definitions inevitably fail to capture the true nature of art because they focus on just one of its many functions, without addressing any of the other functions that have been ascribed to it throughout history. In contrast, the idea of family resemblance avoids this problem by recognizing that a given thing is an artwork if and only if its resemblance to paradigm artworks satisfies some criterion.
This approach has gained popularity recently, because it is able to account for the fact that artworks have a variety of functions and can be seen in a number of ways. It is also a useful tool for understanding why some artworks are more valuable than others. However, it remains to be seen whether this reductive theory of the nature of art can provide sufficient grounds for the distinction between artworks and mere real things.