I realized last night what Art is. Maybe this is presumptuous and maybe I should reflect on it more than a day before deciding it is the best possible definition. However, I figure if I'm wrong, i can edit this later or other people can chime in with their contrary opinions. Basically, I feel passionate about this definition now, so I'll strike while the iron is hot with a blog on this point.
Art is a combination of stimuli whose meaning(s) are in a state of flux. This state of flux makes the art "alive."
It is readily contrasted to a fact. A fact does not change. It needs to be communicated only once (well, depending how clear the communication is and how good your memory is). Take this sentence:
"The capitol of California is Sacramento."
That's a fact. Communicate it and the sentence has served its purpose, it has been conveyed. Rereading the sentence does not add anything new and is a largely a waste of time.
Art does not communicate a fact, or does not communicate JUST a fact, but it rather embodies potential to evoke different meanings or feelings from different people or from the same person at different times. So you can look at a Picasso painting and get some insight or revelation about the painting, about yourself, about how you view the world. Then an hour later, you can go back and look at it again and see differnt meaning, gain different insight. The painting has not changed, but its meaning has changed.
How is this possible? Art accomplishes this by putting together different elements that have some dramatic interplay not just with each other, but with the audience. There are gaps or latent ambiguities in the art that necessarily require the audience to fill in the blanks from their own mind and depending how those blanks are filled in, the meaning of the piece can change.
As long the art has the potential to give rise to new meanings, it is a living thing. It bonds with the audience and becomes part of them or an extension of them.
However, art -- or at least most art -- is not eternally alive. A latent ambiguity in a piece of art may be susceptible to finite interpretations. Eventually, the audience has run the gamut of possible interpretations and relationships with that art, the art then ceases to live. Basically, to fully understand the range of pssible meanings in an art piece ends the life of that art piece, and it becomes inanimate. It ceases to be art and becomes a communication of certain specific, finite meanings or possible meanings.
Now, more possible meanings an art piece can have, the longer it can go before being fully understood to the point that it dies, the more eternal it is. I think this is the ultimate way that critics judge, or should judge, great art. Like the Mona Lisa with her ambiguous smile.
Well, I can already see that this view of art needs to be refined and expanded and evolved. However, I do think there is some kernel of value in looking at art in this way.
The best example of how this defintion of art makes sense, at least to me, is to consider movies as art. There are films you see once and never have to, or want to, see again because you "got it." There's not much mystery, it is readily understood and simplistic. If you are flipping channels and you see the movie is on, you will have no interest in seeing it again because one viewing was enough. There are other movies it seems you can never get enough of. Every time they are on, if you see they are on, you can get sucked into watching it again, like it is the first time.
Why aren't I bored watching Shawshank Redemption for the 50th time? A simplistic explanation is just that it is a great movie, riveting, whatever. However, consistent with the views stated above, I think the movie has a lot of strong and deep ambiguity about meaning and life and values and justice and every time you watch it, you can get something new from it, you can interact with it differently.
A saw a talk once by a screen writer who said the key to good stories was to give the reader problems the reader has to actively solve. You don't lay out all facts in the story for the reader, but you lay out hints and partial revelations and let the audience then do some mental work to put the pieces together into something meaningful. By making the audience actively engage in problem solving, you thereby engage the audience and create an engaging story. I guess my own view of art is somewhat consistent with that, only I am suggesting an elaboration, that if the story is easily solved, because the latent ambiguities (the problems the audience must solve) are too limited, too simple, the story has limited appeal and a short lifespan before it becomes boring. No one will feel any compulsion to see / hear / read it again. So I'm adding a value that a great story does not just have problems to solve, it has problems that can inherently be solved infinite ways (or at least the more the better) and can be solved differently based on the state of mind of the audience at any particular moment.
Well, I again see this needs much refinement. I think some people craft final articles for posting on blogs. I hope my readers (if any) will accept that, at least for now, I am using the blog as more of a stream-of-thought notepad to jot down ideas as they come to me, for possible refinement in the future or by others.