What is art?

In a recent blog post, I started thinking about software as performance art, linking it back to my life as a violinist. I realised that, although I felt very definitely that software and violin are both performance arts, I couldn’t really define performance, art, or performance art. So I’m going to start by thinking about what art is. (Note that this is a deliberately self-reflective post: it’s what art is to me, not what others have thought and written about it.)

I find it’s easier to think in concrete examples rather than abstractions – so when I think of art, the first words that come to mind are sculpture, music, drawing, light. These words have an inherent sensuality: when I think of sculpture, I imagine a marble statue, but mainly by touching it and feeling the cool, smooth, slightly textured surface. When I think of music, I think of my violin: dark honey-coloured wood with mesmerising patterns that I could stare at for hours, and the scent of a luthier’s workshop. Drawing: I think of the feel of a pencil on rough paper, creating a slight ridge in the paper and the vibrations transmitting up my arm. Light: the shaft of light through a window hitting the marble sculpture, or even more heavenly, the filtering of sunlight through green leaves. There is nothing more blissful than this.

So art is physicality, sensuality – a way of experiencing the world that is deeply linked to the physicality of my body.

I haven’t said much of smell and taste, which to me are the most intimate and evocative of senses. Maybe another time – my experience of smell and taste are too personal for me to share.

How does art come to be? Is it deliberately created? By humans? Is a field of bluebells art, or is it nature? I would have said art is created by humans, but then the sunlight filtering through the green leaves…is that nature or art? Does it matter?

I think I will be broad and say that the sunlight in the green leaves is art.

And maybe this a characteristic of art: it expands and deepens our experience.

I leave you with this suggestion: find something you have never smelled and inhale its scent deeply.

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