What is art and where can it be found? The following decalogue is intended to provide at least some bases for discussion.
1. Art is the creation of a different reality. Probably the only feature that can be considered common to all forms of art is the fact that they go beyond what is given. Art is created by a human mind that intends to transcend all that is directly accessible to the senses. The artist has the power to make us see something that we could not have seen by ourselves. Nature is not artistic in itself, unless its Creator were to be understood as a human intelligence wanting to create something for the mere purpose of creating.
2. This new reality is created by giving a new use ‒ i.e. a new meaning ‒ to something already existing. It may be just some juice drops used to draw a flower on a napkin, as famously done by Picasso; or the block of marble from which Michelangelo extracted Moses, apparently in the belief that he was already inside it. It may also be the words of a language, creatively combined into a poem or a novel, or even phonemes and morphemes used to form new words. Art cannot emerge from the void.
3. The artist is the creator of beautiful things. This one has naturally been borrowed from Oscar Wilde. It amounts to saying that art is as subjective and arbitrary as beauty itself is. No doubt a good deal of art is ugly. What would one say about Egon Schiele ‒ or most of Jackson Pollock, for that matter? And still, is there any such thing as objective ugliness? Just try to find a decorative item that no one in the world would have in their living room. Thus art is always beautiful, insofar as it is artistic.
4. Art is in the eye of the beholder. This is also old wisdom, and follows naturally from the preceding statement about art equaling beauty. However, there is a more interesting way to understand it ‒ art does not exist without someone experiencing it, i.e. completing its meaning. The artist may want to express something ‒ it is even possible to suspect that some artists do not really want to express anything ‒ but the only relevant meaning is the one produced in the mind of each particular receiver. In this sense, art equals communication.
5. Art is emotional. This follows from the preceding statemens on its unscientific nature and its inherent subjectivity. The work of the artist is aimed at awakening some feeling ‒ joy, nostalgia, fear ‒ in those experiencing it. Art appeals to those facets of human nature that cannot be objectivized, which for that reason are the most ‘human’ ones, i.e. those differentiating us from the rest of animals. It is true that we are what we are thanks to both science and art, each stemming from a different half of our minds.
6. Art is not ideological. This should ‒ coherently ‒ prove the most controversial point in the decalogue. Artists upholding political ‒ religious, moral, etc. ‒ positions are not creating a new reality for its own sake, but rather to act upon the here and now. Irrespective of their good or not-so-good intentions, they present receivers with a rather unfair dilemma: either they try to ‘abstract’ the artistic work from ideology in order to experience it from a merely ‘artistic’ point of view ‒ provided this is possible ‒ or else they accept the ideology itself. This is not to deny the critical role played by religion and propaganda in the development of artistic works from the very beginning of human history; however, art makes no sense without the acknowledgment that it is fundamentally different from them.
7. Art is subject to social sanctioning. Any individual has the right (not) to consider something artistic, but it is undeniable that human societies tend to draw lines between what is to be considered ‘art’ and what is not ‒ and, much more clearly, between what is to be considered ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ art. Canons are always rather arbitrary and unfair ‒ again because of the intrusion of ideology into a domain where ideological scales have nothing to contribute ‒ but they undoubtedly condition the way we look at artistic products. Therefore, art is also ‒ and maybe unfortunately ‒ education.
8. The artist can become art in his/her own right. This is to say that artists can be more relevant than whatever they create, which is clearly connected with the preceding statement on social sanctioning. Hardly anyone will deny that the price of a painting tends to depend much more on the name of its creator than on its intrinsic quality. Another good example can be observed in the typography and layout of book covers. Thus, in Stephen King’s novels, the four letters of King usually take some two thirds of the total area of the cover, while the title tends to be relegated to its lower corners. I guess a resounding, monarchical last name may favor this. People buying such a book will often not be purchasing the book in itself, but rather its author, turned into a sort of artistic item with a value of its own.
9. A decalogue of art need not be composed of ten points. In fact, the present one is totally dispensable. The interpretation of the Greek word decalogue as meaning ‘ten words’ is a matter of linguistics, i.e. of science rather than art. The fact that this particular decalogue has been made to contain exactly ten points suggests that it is closer to the scientific domain of knowledge. However, from a different viewpoint, the inclusion of a superfluous point within an otherwise serious essay can be considered ‘artistic’ in itself.
10. None of the points above, or any other statements about art, are to be taken seriously. Neither is this one.