What Makes Art?

?????Admiring the shape of rocks inspired me to create paper weights. Influenced by Italian artist, Amadeo Modigliani, I crafted the below paper weight. Modigliani was a figurative artist known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces, elongation of form, and no pupils. His faces are very distinctive with long, thin noses, the empty almond-shaped eyes, and the tiny pursed lips. The eyes of his paintings are so haunting and when I look at them, oddly they look quite normal in his paintings, as if everyone has empty eyes. Following my art experiences, I took up my art materials and proceeded to paint a face on the rock borrowing from Modigliani’s muse (Berthe Lipchitz). Since then, I have been painting many more rocks with different themes and shapes.

This is to reflect on of what art is. What makes art? My experience of art-making, my creative process, and the bare fact that I used art materials to complete this piece, made this bare stone art. As Dewey (2005a) states, “Only where material is employed as media is there expression and art” (p. 66), and I agree. This piece involved a creative process, the experience of making art, the surroundings where the art came from, and the utility of the piece as a paperweight. Dewey (2005b) asserts that, “Art denotes a process of doing and making” (p. 48). As a visual artist, my process of doing and making was as follows: I observed the rock and Modigliani’s art, thought about the process influenced by my experiences, I drew on historical accounts, and I gave meaning and purpose to the piece. The act of using art materials, drawing and painting techniques, thinking and feeling of the piece, and incorporating my expression, made this piece to be considered as art. The reference point, in this case Modigliani, gave the art a style.

This process also speaks to the discussion by Davis (2005) where art combines thinking and feeling in a generative process. Davis suggests “Where the feeling artist struggles to communicate and the thinking artist conspires to construct” (Davis, 2005, p. 29). Davis demonstrates that, “Art is that human activity which consists in one man [woman]’s consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being infected by those feelings and also experiencing them” (Davis 2005, p. 12). Furthermore, Dewey (2005a) would agree that the rock has gone through a process of transformation, and the result of this transformation could be artful as he states:  “An activity that was ‘natural’ –spontaneous and unintended-is transformed because it is undertaken as a means to a consciously entertained consequence. Such transformation marks every deed of art. The result of the transformation may be artful rather than esthetic” (p. 65). In concluding, Dewey (2005a) assures that, “art is not nature, but is nature transformed by entering into new relationships where it evokes a new emotional response” (p.82).

Indeed, this paper weight is vulnerable to external criticism, as any other fine art, as it further develops meanings. Therefore, my process followed the artistic conventions of what art is as it started with an experience, followed a process from experience and creativity, it touched upon feelings and emotions, and it got transformed during the process. As a result, this paper weight is “art”  Nevertheless, sometimes I question, whether this paper weight is my art or Modigliani’s!

I would like to ask you what makes art or what is art for you?


  • Davis, J. (2005). Framing education as art: The octopus has a good day. New York:  Teachers College Press.
  • Dewey, J. (2005a). The Act of Expression. In Art as experience, (pp. 58-81). New York:  Perigee Books.
  • Dewey, J. (2005b). Having an Experience. In Art as experience, (pp. 37-59). New York:  Perigee Books.

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