Defining Art by Medium

by Lisa Sahgal
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A lot of individuals define Art as the act of combining certain mediums and creating a product. This product is called the ‘masterpiece’, and the act of making it is called ‘art.’ Practicing Artists in current Society know this is an incorrect definition.

It’s okay to be confused, for this was the correct definition at one point in time, and this definition has passed down to the generations. So what changed, and when?

Let us go back in time to unravel the progress in Art, and its changing definition to match Society’s demands.

First, Art began with the emergence of Homo- Sapiens, when our ancestors lived in caves. In short, art was a part of our lives from the very beginning.

What’s really intriguing is that these practices did not take place in one part of the world. Cave paintings have been discovered in Eastern France, a site termed Lascaux, and in other places such as the Bhimbetka Cave, Bhopal, India. So art practices were similar, cultural differences hadn’t truly emerged, but it is suggested that Art was a form of Ritual.

Moving on to the Neolithic Period, Cultural differences begun to emerge. It started with different styles of tool making, then Jewellery making, and moved on to architecture.

The Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, each emerged in different locations of Early Civilisation. So it is safe to suggest that Art at this period was related to tool making and building.

Starting to see the difference? Currently, an Architect is not considered an Artist. But you will find so many architects that are artists as well, where does that idea stem from? From our Ancestors.


(Taj Mahal) Credits-

The Medieval Period is where we start to focus entirely on European Art, which is a problem. We have jumped from early Civilisations to a small part of the Globe. This has prohibited us from documenting the evolution African Art, Chinese Art, Indian Art, and so forth. This Period emerged in Rome and progressed to Ireland (350-1300 CE.) The focus is on Christianity. This is where the practice of mosaics emerged, and glass became an important material to use. The colourful glass mosaics on church windows feature this Period.

Now, the Era we are all familiar with; Renaissance Art. This era is divided into three Periods, Pre- Modern, Modern, and Post-Modern. We all know each Period focused on telling different stories, focusing on different themes. The use of materials were similar, canvas, board and paint. The only shift were the discovery of new paint pigments, and the Art Movements. Pre-Modern Period focused primarily on Realism. The Modern period is the evolution of the same, but no change, and the Post-Modern period burst open with many Art Movements attacking the Modern Period, such as Pop art. This is where the concept of mixed media was born.

Let us finally look at Contemporary Society. What mediums do we use to make art? Paint, canvas, clay? Yes, we certainly do. What else? We use projectors, animation, computers, electricity, and other products of technology. Now, these mediums did not exist before. As we discovered technology, more art forms emerged, such as the birth of Photography. Of course, mixed media was a feature of the Post-Modern Period, but even more so in Contemporary Society.

Are you starting to see why the definition of art as the act of creating a product is incorrect? Maybe that is a harsh description, the correct term would be limiting. Art is no longer just a product, it is also an event. Contemporary art is featured by films, installations, performance, and various other mediums that cannot be considered a thing: medium is no longer limited to materiality.


Installation) Credits- Tony Oursler

So, how are we going to define art in this Contemporary World? We define it as the Act of Expressing.

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