I want to begin, quite simplistically, with the thought that art arises from a particular set of personality traits; a certain way of seeing, thinking, or expressing that is not prevalent in the minds of most individuals. I can imagine that a similar analysis might be stated about a physicist, or an auto mechanic, or a beautician; a set of personal magnets that draw most of us, given the opportunity to escape fundamental environmental concerns, toward a particular direction. The difference is that there seems to be not as much questioning about what an auto mechanic or a beautician does, or what they do might mean. This difference in perception between what an artist does and what others do leads me to think that this peculiarity might have something to do with a demand for societal productivity, or use value for what one produces or for what consumes most of their time. If it is not utilitarian enough, there may be attached a stigma of “time wasted,” or an appellation of “dreamer.” Such analyses reek of the American ethic of work, rugged individualism, and capitalist thought above all. But that’s for another time.
In any event, there are some people who pursue the world in a certain way, and these people have chosen to call themselves or are called artists; and what they produce is called, by some, art.
But this is where we hit a fairly dense wall; a huge wide wall where there is art hanging around one end of this almost infinitely wide wall, and symbolically continuing across to its other, almost out of sight, end. All of it is called art by someone. No one can say for certain that any of those someones is incorrect.
However, whenever a group of people do agree that a certain type of product that each of them beholds is called art, let’s assume for the moment that what they behold actually is a certain kind of art, or, more boldly, a consensus about art itself. For example, there is a consensus about high art that is shown in museums and galleries and is taught in institutions of higher learning. (There used to be a low art, but it got consumed into the culture that was populated by the consensus for high art, and thus also became high art.)
There is also a consensus about what is called “outsider art,” which is created by people without education in institutions of learning.
These are not the only kinds of consensuses about art. There are also consensus groups that consider some production that has utilitarian content, such as architecture or craft, to be art as well.
And there seems to be a consensus about avant garde art that appears to have to do with negating all art as it now is, and revolutionizing life as it is lived – somehow making life easier and bringing us closer to a, I suppose artistic, vision of utopia.
There are many other kinds of consensuses about art, some having to do with other categories similar in nature to the ones above, some (that is many separate groups with differing opinions) having to do what people might consider the nature of art, and then there are many differing groups that like to debate each other about the qualitative aspects of art.
As you might see, and as I am beginning to feel, it is almost ludicrous to use the word, art, for it appears on the surface, to have very little distinctive or inherent meaning.