Enriching the Arts

Art in Unexpected Places

Depending on how you look at it, art is everywhere around us

When people think of the arts, often what first comes to mind is the fine arts – paintings and sculptures restricted to galleries and museums. However, expanding the definition of art makes art more accessible, including mediums not traditionally thought of as art. Examples include graffiti, album art, and even the animation styles in video games and shows appearing on television.

Various Definitions of Art

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines art as “Something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”

Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is an example of disputed artwork.

Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is an example of disputed artwork.

Throughout the years there have been many disputes over what counts as artwork. Some famous examples of disputed artwork include pieces of by artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. More recently, it has been disputed whether video games should be classified as art.

Tolstoy argued that the experience of the audience decides whether or not a piece is artwork. However, American philosopher John Dewey argued the opposite: that it is the intention of the artist that makes a piece artwork, not the reaction of the audience.

Examples of Unconventional Art

Defining art as something that expresses important ideas or feelings and that has an impact upon its audience opens the term to encompass a variety of mediums that are not traditionally classified as artwork.

This piece of graffiti artwork by Banksy is titled "Shop Until you Drop."

This piece of graffiti artwork by Banksy is titled Shop Until you Drop.

Graffiti is one example. One notable exception is the work of British street artist Banksy, who has largely been accepted into the more traditional art world. The work of Banksy includes elements of political commentary, with the location of the graffiti providing a larger context for the piece and inciting a reaction from the viewer.

The designs appearing on the covers of books, CDs and movies could also be classified as artwork, in that it is intended to communicate an idea and impact the viewer. Alex Steinweiss, Roger Dean and the Hipgnosis Studio are examples of artists who created album artwork. Roger Dean became famous for his fantastical landscape designs, which appeared on many album covers that he worked on.


This screenshot from the video game Borderlands 2 displays its unique art style.

Additionally, video games incorporate many elements of art into their gameplay. Often the first thing that a company releases to promote a new game is the concept artwork. Another way video games include art is in their design. Many games have unique animation styles – one example being the Borderlands series, which is rendered so that the characters and landscapes look like something from a cartoon or graphic novel.

By expanding the definition of artwork to include more than the traditional pieces of artwork on display in galleries and museums, the art world opens up to include new mediums. Defining art as something that expresses an idea or feeling and impacts the audience viewing it enables us to see that various forms of artwork can be found all around us.

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