About Art

What is art?

It’s a big question with no simple answer. Everyone, though, seems to have an opinion and since ancient times, people have expressed ideas about the subject. What do you think art is?

What’s your opinion?

Your ideas about art – including how and why it’s made – are shaped by your culture, experiences and understanding of the subject. Your ideas may also change over time.  

Art has many forms

Art forms have changed over time too. Painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, decorative arts, fashion and textiles have been with us for centuries. New ideas and technologies have seen other forms develop, and traditional forms used in unexpected ways.

Now artists aren’t confined by traditional materials and techniques and use almost every material you can think of to make art – even water and light. And boundaries between art forms have blurred; a painting might include photographic images, or a fashion designer might create sculptural forms. 

Performance, installation and new media art have also expanded ideas about how art is made and presented. Art may be a temporary arrangement of things that are taken apart later, or need the audience to participate.

What’s the purpose of art?

As you explore art you will discover its many purposes, including how artworks:

appeal to senses
Bridget Riley
represent real people, places, objects, events or experiences
Andy Warhol
represent abstract ideas such as love, suffering or beauty
Auguste Schnenck
tell stories
express emotions
Pablo Picasso
communicate beliefs or values
Albrecht Durer
comment or critique
John Brack
explore the world of the imagination
Patricia Piccinini
serve cultural ceremony or purpose
Egypt, Canopic chest
fulfil a practical function
Frank Gehry

What does art mean?

In the past, the meaning of an artwork was often seen as fixed. Today it is recognised that an artwork can have many layers of meaning which develop over time and as different audiences respond to it.

What you see in an artwork is the most important way of discovering the meaning and ideas contained within it. Sometimes artists also talk or write about their work. Even so, their intentions are not always known and some don’t want to explain their ideas in words. They prefer you to find your own meaning in what you see.

Sometimes an artwork has personal meaning because it reminds you of something you have seen or experienced. Or, its meaning may be based on what you know about the artist and the subject or the time it was made.

Art experts, including critics, historians and curators, also contribute meaning and ideas to an artwork based on their research and experience, and can be an important source of information for your own research into art.