What is a work of art?

For a work of art or artistic work means an object made using artistic techniques and with an aesthetic or social purpose. That is, it is traditionally the product of the so-called Fine Arts: painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance, theater, cinema, photography, and comics.

However, it is not easy to define a work of art or restrict the use of this expression, which can also be used to allude metaphorically to something very well done, someone very beautiful or simply something that we like too much. And this difficulty is due to the fact that it is also difficult to define art itself.

In fact, the arbitrariness of the criterion regarding what is or is not art, nowadays, is a matter of debate and there is no single, scientific criterion. Art is a historical and social construction, to which transcendental values of human civilization are attributed. These can be historical (documentary), aesthetic (technical) or symbolic (social).

Traditionally it is assumed that a work of art is an object that represents the most transcendent universal values of humanity, or that in any case involves an important reflection on them. But these criteria are not always met for everyone equally.

Museums, as protective and selecting institutions of the artistic, can be accused of following an ideological, culturalist or other bias criteria, so their criterion should not be considered absolute truth either. In addition, due to its nature, many artistic works cannot be kept in a museum.

On the other hand, in the contemporaneity, the idea of artistic work has been subject to criticism and deconstruction, as art proliferates towards more unpredictable and less controllable variants, more modern and daring, less linked to the historical tradition. Modern art museums, in fact, tend to be the scene of this debate, around what may or may not be considered as work.

What is a work of art for?

The simplest answer to this question is: not at all. Art has no specific purpose to fulfill, a role or a utility. It can be used as a decoration, as a historical document or as an exploration of the sensibilities of an era, as one tries to verify which are the most usual personal perspectives in a given period.

However, complex as it may seem, works of art have a single and simple task: to remind us of who we are and where we come from, with whom we live in the world and how much we know and how much we ignore it, and ourselves.

Types of works of art

We could classify works of art according to the techniques used to make them:

Pictorial works. Fruit of painting and drawing or illustration.
Sculptural works. Product of sculpture, abstract or figurative.
Musical works. Fruit of the musical composition and that can be interpreted by artists with musical instruments.
Literary works. Written by authors of literature in their genres: poetry, essay, dramaturgy, and narrative.
Plays. Directed and staged by a director and performed by actors, based on a script.
Cinematographic works. Those that are produced by a team and filmed on photosensitive film.
Performing works. Product of other forms of visual art that require a stage.

Characteristics of a work of art

Again, it is difficult to establish the characteristics common to all works of art. But let’s agree that a masterpiece should be:

Enduring. It must be able to be preserved and exhibited to future generations.
Context. The work does not exist without its historical context and without everything we can say about it, because all that is precisely what it represents.
Symbolic. Works of art do not always contain an explicit message but represent meanings and meanings, that is, they contain implicit messages that we must learn.
Valuable. Its value is not necessarily measurable in money or in precious goods, but it has cultural value because it is an unrepeatable object.
Original. There are no others identical to the work of art, but rather it is something unique and unrepeatable.

Language of art

Artistic language or language of art is understood as that medium that an art form uses to transmit its contents: painting and sculpture are eminently visual, while cinematography is audiovisual and music merely auditory.

It is called language because art exists only to the extent that it communicates a message, even if that message is not always very clear or easy to decipher.