A Relational Definition of ART:

––Carefully crafted and refined over a lifetime by artist/pholospher Tim Holmes––


                                                                                 Short definition:  

Art is any intentional human creation which appears to serve no other purpose.


Full definition:


ART is that formal creation made by human intention which shares all of these qualities:

  • a) personally expressive

  • b) reflective of the truth

  • c) presented as an offering

  • d) non-utilitarian*

  • e) realized

  • f) shared

  • g) interesting enough not to be simply thrown away.


*There is a kind of illustration (scientific illustration, book illuminations, maps, etc.) that forms an exception. Although the purpose is practical these images still can be seen as art due to particularly fine rendering. Here the practical element actually adds to the esthetic experience. I find this a rare exception, though.

 Please feel free to post comments or forward this site. The definition is open to revision if the argument stands up!                            


The Term
It is only helpful to define the term ART as it differs from other concepts like beauty, quality, creativity, talent, style, aesthetics, truth, goodness, etc., each of which is totally valid and very important but is still not art.


Justification of the Definition

Short Definition:  Art is any intentional human creation which appears to serve no other purpose.

This may sound sound cynical, but it is really the heart and soul of art.  Most all human activity has a practical purpose, for instance to illumine (education), promote (advertising), disuade (propaganda), beautify (decoration), amuse (entertainment), etc.

The relentless 'purposefulness' that is the mantra of our culture is destructive of true creativity.  Creation is not about any outer reason, which in fact would be antithetical to true creativity.  The sheer delight in creation indicates the presence of ART. 


Full Definition:

a) personally expressive; Art will never be made by a machine or by nature.  (Nature is beautiful and thus 'artful' but is not art.  But art made by animals?...see Art Tests.)

b) reflective of the truth; Art must be truthful, not literal, but reflecting the essential nature of reality. The test: take what is suggested in the work. If it does not illuminate some aspect of the truth then it's not art, but propaganda.

c) presented as an offering;  Art must be a neutral offering not a demand; like a question about reality rather than a statement of opinion. Otherwise it falls into propaganda or advertising.

d) non-utilitarian;  Utility is not anti-art but the "usefulness"– for instance the emptiness of a cup– does not contribute to art.  The more creativity strays from play and toward function, the farther it gets from art.

e) realized; An artwork can be temporal, like music or dance, but if it is not realized in some way it remains an idea.

f) shared;  Any personal expression, like journaling, is totally legitimate but still doesn't become art until it is shared (unfolded within another's experience.)

g) interesting enough not to be simply thrown away; If you find nothing of value in an art work, then it is actually just garbage.  That doesn't mean that it can't be legitimate art for someone else, but for you– toss it!


 Please participate!  Let's forge the best universal definition of art possible.