It is always hard to pinpoint the meaning of a word. Like any label its meaning is fluid, changing, personal. Consider the word ‘art’ for example: what is art? We could describe art by presenting examples (a painting, a sculpture, a song) but are all instances of these categories “art”? If we were to concede that a functional abstraction is required, a concession for the sake of a common, intepretable definition, then we are left with the question of what functionality this definition is meant to enable. An integral part of this is the agency behind it.
Let us consider art from the artist’s perspective (at least the exemplary artist that conforms to my meaning of the word, at this very moment, filtered through my limitations of cognition and self-expression). Her art is a means of communicating ideas, thoughts, meaning. Communication itself, however, is marked by the intent of the utterer, as much as the content of the communication; though itself only understood through the conventions of personal and inter-personal meanings. My artist’s intent is self-expression, her motive to make thoughts tangible, functional. The art-work becomes the avatar of the artist’s meaning; more or less accurate, conceding or struggling against its non-determinability, and its lack of specificness.
Are there problems with this definition? Yes, as with any definition, it will never accurately represent a meaning, for the meaning itself is non-determinable, non-specific. It is, however, useful for my purposes. One could ask for example “How does abstract art fit into your definition? Does it not contradict it, since art stems from meaning and ‘abstract’ implies the lack of it?”. The answer would be “No.” since ‘abstract’ here describes a repulsion from the crisp articulation of meaning in the artist’s mind. It is an attempt to convey the chaos of the mind directly to the artwork. It is an avatar of non-specificity. Its meaning cannot be expressed with conventional language, since the artist avoids triggering the mechanics that will force a communicable idea. Here, the extension and malleability of meaning through time contrasts with attempts for more “photographic” art.
Art, for my artist, is an esoteric practise. The artwork communicates their self-expression, but their art envelops no such intent. The communication is a side-effect. A pretty painting made to charm and appease is not art. A beautiful painting might be, if it was made solely for the artist’s need to self-express. Art, for me, I sometimes think, is what makes me feel. But that would hardly support the useful communication of meaning.