What is Art and what is it for?

Discover what art is as well as its role in society. Find out about its history, the different artistic disciplines, its benefits and the role of artists today. Explore this world!

Discover what art is as well as its role in society

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Definition and role of art

In this article, we tell you what art is and what it is for, and we dive into the definition of art, its role, and its indispensable importance in modern society. Explore these concepts with Fundación MAPFRE, where we are committed to promoting culture and knowledge.

What is art?

According to the Royal Spanish Academy of Language (REA), art is the manifestation of human activity whereby a personal and disinterested vision is expressed that interprets what is real or imagined using plastic, linguistic or auditory resources.

Since prehistoric times, art has been the means, form and source of expression through which to creatively represent feelings, emotions and perceptions of the world around us.

The role of art

If you ask yourself “What is art for?”, it is essential to understand its multiple roles in today’s society. In this way, art reveals itself to be an essential tool in human development and social cohesion.

The main purposes of art today are:

  • Aesthetic: to deliver pleasure and motivate society.
  • Expressive: to communicate emotions and feelings in a deeper way.
  • Communicative: to convey ideas and messages to provoke reactions, going beyond traditional communication.
  • Educational: to teach values and knowledge through artistic creation.
  • Therapeutic: to improve people’s mental and emotional health.
  • Social: to point out and expose social and political issues.

The concept of art

There is no single, definitive concept of art, since it is constantly changing, adapting and including new forms, content and techniques.

The concept of art as such has not always existed, rather it emerged in classical antiquity in great cultures such as the Chinese and Greco-Roman. Today’s concept of art originated in the 18th century, when the term “Fine Arts” grouped together literature, sculpture, painting, music, dance and architecture in order to distinguish them from crafts and other popular forms of expression. The 20th century saw the incorporation of cinema, photography and comics.

The origins of art

The first artistic displays by humans date back to prehistoric times, when Homo sapiens decorated the interiors of caves, perhaps for narrative, shamanic or ritual purposes. Natural pigments, such as clay and iron oxide, were used to create these drawings on the walls of rock shelters. They depicted the way of life of these humans, animals and hunting scenes. A number of these paintings have survived to the present day.

Art in history

Although the beginnings of art can be traced back to the Paleolithic period, the first real artistic movement in history occurred in Ancient Egypt, around 3500 BCE, when sculptures and paintings depicting gods, kings and everyday life were created.

From then on, art has never stopped evolving. Ancient Greek art flourished with the appearance of statues and sculptures representing gods and stories from mythology. Then came Roman art, which emerged as a major artistic movement from the first century BCE to the fifth century CE.

The Middle Age saw the development of medieval art, which was primarily religious in nature. And during the Renaissance, art focused on the individual.

Modern art arose in the 19th century with impressionism and post-impressionism.

During this period, other styles such as cubism, surrealism, expressionism and abstraction appeared.

Since then, the art world has continued to innovate, incorporating new styles and trends.

The importance of art

The importance of art lies in its ability to influence the way people think, feel and relate to each other in society. Through art, emotions and personal experiences can be expressed, fostering imagination, empathy and an understanding of diverse perspectives and realities.

Art offers society numerous benefits: it promotes intercultural dialogue, challenges social norms, boosts the economy and contributes to people’s personal and emotional development.

It is also a powerful tool for exploring the reality in which we live and invites us to imagine and build a better future.

The benefits of art

Art is vital to society, as it fosters intercultural dialogue, challenges social norms, boosts the economy and contributes to people’s personal and emotional development.

The benefits of art in education

Art in education is crucial, as it enhances cognitive and creative progress, especially in children, improves problem solving and encourages self-expression, and helps develop valuable skills in various areas of study and different professions. In addition to these, the benefits of art for schools and families also strengthen the bonds between families and teachers, and encourage an environment where learning and personal development can flourish together harmoniously.

The benefits of art in childhood

Art in childhood provides resources that can be used to tackle future personal and work challenges, as creativity is a key skill in the future of work, according to the World Economic Forum.

The benefits of art for adults

For adults, art balances the mind, facilitates self-discovery, improves self-esteem and awareness of the present, as well as having physical benefits such as the development of psychomotor skills and three-dimensional vision.

Art in society

Art has a major impact on society, as it can bring about social and political change. Artists use their art as a form of protest and activism, addressing issues such as inequality, injustice and oppression. In addition, art also contributes to the construction of cultural identities by representing local traditions, customs and narratives, thereby strengthening the sense of belonging and preserving cultural heritage.

In addition, art also has a significant economic impact, as it drives tourism and local development, and the art market itself is an ever-growing industry.

What is Contemporary Art? Art in today’s society

Art today is a powerful tool for exploring reality and both imagining and building a better future. Contemporary art is today’s artistic output and is characterized by its diversity. Indeed, one of the distinguishing characteristics of contemporary art is its experimental character.

Artistic disciplines

Categorization of the arts varies from culture to culture, making it difficult to reach a universal consensus on what is considered art due to different scales of cultural values.

Throughout history, various ways of structuring art have been proposed, giving rise to countless classifications, from the grouping of artistic disciplines by the Greek muses to Kant’s and Hegel’s theories on the types of Art.

Today, the French definition is the most widespread:

  • Architecture (le premier art)

Architecture is the art and technique of projecting, designing and constructing. Architects create buildings and structures that blend functionality and beauty, transforming the environment that surrounds us.

  • Sculpture (le deuxième art)

Sculpture is the art of modeling clay, or carving stone, wood and other materials. The artist molds the material to give life to three-dimensional forms. The techniques can be as varied as modeling in marble or clay, casting in bronze or collage. Sculpture is one of the fine arts and, as such, it has an aesthetic rather than a practical function.

  • Painting (le troisième art)

Painting as an art consists of applying a certain technique to a chosen surface to obtain a composition of shapes, colors, textures and designs.

  • Music (le quatrième art)

Music is the art of creating and organizing sounds and silences while respecting the fundamental principles of melody, harmony and rhythm.

  • Literature (le cinquième art)

According to the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), literature is the “art of verbal expression” and therefore encompasses both written texts (written literature) and spoken or sung texts (oral literature).

  • Theater and the Performing Arts (le sixième art)

The performing arts are artistic expressions created to be shown on a stage. There are three fundamental artistic disciplines: theater, dance and music.

  • Cinema (le septième art)

Cinema is the art of creating and projecting film footage. Etymologically, the word “cinematography” comes from two Greek words on the one hand, kiné, “motion” on the other γραφorς (graphic). This was intended to define the concept of “moving image”.

Although the French classification adds media arts (le huitième art) and comics (le neuvième art), we cannot neglect to mention other disciplines that are not expressly included in this scheme: drawing, an art that consists of outlining images with pencil, charcoal or ink on two-dimensional surfaces; and engraving, an art that obtains prints by printing of wood or metal plates onto another medium.

In addition, the development of new technologies in the audiovisual field has led to the emergence of a new type of art, digital art, a form of artistic expression that uses digital technology to produce a digital image, where light is replaced by the mathematical calculations of a computer. In other words, computer technology has become transformed into a creative tool, and the paintbrush and palette have been replaced by the mouse, the trackpad and the digital pencil.

Role of the artist

The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) defines an artist as someone who possesses the necessary capacity or ability to perform any of the fine arts.

In our society, artists are respected because they are considered to be people with talent and the ability to produce creative works. Their work consists of imagining, designing and creating images, objects, works and pieces of music that contribute to the development and enjoyment of society.

Art in life

Art is a necessity for human beings, as we all have the impulse to create. This powerful tool allows us to explore the reality in which we live and invites us to imagine and build a better future. Art gives us the opportunity to express ourselves, to convey emotions and to connect with others in a unique manner. It also helps us reflect on our existence and find meaning in the world around us.

In short, art is fundamental to the development and well-being of society. That is why Fundación MAPFRE offers the best exhibitions and resources to enrich the knowledge of art enthusiasts and those who want to expand their artistic universe.