Week 1: What Is Art, and Why Look At It?

An Introductory Article

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Throughout our studies, we will examine the what, how, and why, of our subjects to best understand their background, meaning, and interlaced effects on the world.

In “History of Art for Young People” (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite art history texts!) H.W. Janson says that “art is an aesthetic object. It is meant to be looked at and appreciated for its intrinsic value.” Janson begins with the Imagination, and how it separates us from all other living creatures because we can communicate our creative minds. Our Imagination is “the connector between the conscious and the subconscious” and allows us to collect possibilities of the future and past. Like science and religion, the urge to make art is an attempt to understand ourselves and the universe around us.

H. W. Janson’s History of Art for Young People. 4th ed.

Picasso’s Bull’s Head is art. But if you were to pass by it in a museum, not even knowing who it was by, would you think it was that great or significant? Most people might think art and museums are boring because they don’t understand the “what” of what they are seeing. The Bull’s Head is fine art because it shows what Janson calls a leap of imagination. Art happens when you connect seemingly unrelated parts into a new visual meaning. It’s looking at a bike seat and handlebars, and seeing a bull’s head. This Picasso is so great because it’s so simple, but creative!


After thinking about the “What” of art, Why do you think we should look at it?

Video by Khan Academy


S. W. L.

January 9, 2017



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