Art History Basics

Two women looking at a painting on a tour
Two women looking at a painting on a tour
Sunday 13 March 2011
2.00pm - 3.30pm
5, please book 0161 235 8888 or

Talk Six: Art today defining, collecting, exhibiting, preserving

“What is Art?” is an eternal question – baffling, irritating, challenging, entertaining. Despite numerous attempts throughout history, no one has found the ultimate answer. Plato and Aristotle clashed over that answer. Wars were fought over the definition of art. Emperor Augustus, Lorenzo Il Magnifico and Louis XIV, among others, tried to turn it into a “civil servant”. The mighty Council of Trent debated it, alongside the most sacred of the Vatican's dogmas.

Elusive definition aside, many thought that they could simply define the rules of "perfect" art – a bit of this, a smidgen of that. By the end of the 19th century, both the sacral and secular bodies gave up on proposing the ultimate answer or formula. First, the newspapers and ubiquitous art critics authoritatively took over. But with the "devil may care" attitude of Modernism, everyone was invited to join the grand jury (whether they liked it or not!). Incensed “Is it art?” seem to have all but replaced the exasperated “What is art?” among the wider audiences.

With the hindsight of two and a half millennia – are we any wiser and closer to the right answer? These talks by Nirvana Romell outline a brief history of wrong answers and tackle the relevance of “What is art?” and “Is it art?” debates in our time.

Last in the series.

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