CAN THERE BE ART WHERE THERE IS UGLINESS? The book, “Introduction to Concepts in Art” (“Sanat Kavramlarına Giriş”), offers a clear and neat account for those who are interested in art and wish to learn about it. It is derived from the “Aesthetics and Introduction to Art” lectures Prof. Dr. Ayla Ersoy gave at Marmara University Department of Fine Arts. Featuring six sections explaining concepts about art in broad strokes, the book begins with a description of art. The author says all arts have something in common: The desire to be appealing, that is, to be liked. The author describes art as the effort to create (*) appealing forms. Art is the aesthetic relation between people and the objective truths in nature, with three constituting stages: In the first stage, the artist perceives the material features in nature (colors, sounds, movements, and various physical external reactions). In the second, these perceptions are molded into appealing forms and patterns for aesthetic purposes. In the final stage, new perceptions are aligned with affections and sensations already existing within the artist. You will find more in my article … (*) create: leveraging intelligence, thought, and imagination to bring forth something novel and unprecedented.

Beauty is not a prerequisite for art. Describing what is beautiful as what is appealing, we could say the scent of a flower or a tasty fruit is appealing. The “beautiful” in art is a kind of beauty that the beauties in nature create by making their way through the human soul. The aesthetic attitude and perception of the person before nature turns into aesthetic liking.

Sentimentality and aesthetic pleasure are interrelated. Sentimentality depends on the existence of a certain external stimulus. But aesthetic pleasure, for example, such as that resulting from a piece of nice music, remains even when the music is over. Thus, we could conclude that aesthetic pleasure arises in the realm of senses, yet surpasses it and tends toward the personality as a whole.

According to B. Croce, “Art is intuition.” If we define art as “the desire to give form,” we could say the artist renders a work of art not with the mind but the instincts. Therefore, no period’s art could be superior to that of another. Art is an output of time. Time, religion, environment, economy, politics, etc. are significant factors that impact it.

It is more important for an artist to be sensitive than intelligent. The work must be original and of a quality specific to the artist. Art is to get to know one’s own humanness.

So, according to the book, “The artist is the one who can materialize the peculiar and instinctive life lying at the core of human mind, driven by the strength they drive from their unique talents.” The artist processes these invisible pieces of imagination, giving them activity and shaping them into visible forms.

Many artists are romantics and dreamers because they take refuge in a realm of pleasure as they cannot bear living in the real world. Despite the differences between the person the artist is and their artistry, these two are naturally connected as they are intertwined. However, one part of the artist outweighs the part that is their daily person. The bigger an artist’s personality is and the more they alienate themselves from the conditions of daily life, the more unique and significant their work becomes. Surely, another influential factor is the social conditions the artist is subject to.

Again, according to the book, the people strive to learn about the entirety of nature with all their power through the act of knowing. As they learn more, they become more powerful. They will always want more, strive to exceed the limits of their being, and live to achieve immortality. All the artists immortalized by their memory are people ahead of their time and possess original characters. They are people who can address society and the entire humanity, expressing their yearnings.

Genius is a gift the artist receives from nature. The artist can thus do well and easily the things that an ordinary person can only do poorly. Recognizing such genius as a superior form of being does not separate the individual possessing it from society. On the contrary, it elevates him to the position of a leader of millions. The artist should avoid imitation and find a way of their own.

The book mentions two views on art:

1-    The Objective View

It is defined as a whole consisting of the artist’s personal sensations, thoughts, and decisions. The artist’s human senses that determine their individual sensitivity are shaped silently as part of a lifelong development. Therefore, when we examine the works produced by an artist over their lifetime, we see some variations over time. However, all of them are characterized by the same personality and style. Social events have also contributed to the formation of this personality.

2-    The Subjective View

This view values individuality and personality. However, behind subjective behavior, there are always social forces of objective quality. Artists have also been against the grain in their processes and have not been understood by their society. In Friedrich Schiller’s words, “An artist adopting the subjective view expresses their reactions to nature and society within their subjectivity in an increasingly more energetic and expert manner. This enriches and expands the scope of their personality.”

Art is conscious work, says the author: “The value and significance of art grows to the extent to which it surpasses the moment. The transcending of the real being by the artwork and gaining value depends on the presence of a subject viewing it. It is only that subject that can give meaning to the work of art. The lack of understanding about an artwork results from the lack of a consciousness that could perceive it on an aesthetic level.

Again, we see artists centering their works around the same materials, style, and subject. Like Burhan Doğançay and Devrim Erbil, to cite a couple of examples. So, art is conscious, planned, and even targeted work -most of the time…

We could classify fine arts by the forms, tools, or goals they adopt as follows:

–          Plastic arts, which give form to substance, such as architecture, painting, sculpture, and relief, are also referred to as visual arts.

–          Phonetic arts, which give form to sound and words, such as literature and music, are also called audio arts.

–          Rhytmic arts, which give form to movement, include dance, ballet, and sportive games.

The Birth of Art

But how was art born? Nobody knows this for sure. But a series of discoveries have come to this day starting from the cave findings by archeologists. Linguistics has also been one of the areas that contributed to the studies in the field the most. In fact, art emerged with the creation of humans. Their unconsciousness, loneliness, timidity, fear, and admiration of nature led to it. The primitive people learned how to compare, choose, and make similar versions of the tools they used, attaching great value to any similarity. They made connections among similarities, created many tool sets in an increasingly growing act of abstraction, and started naming them. The naming was an effort to recognize the objects in the external world and enable communication in primitive societies.

This is what has been said and repeated for a long time now. But in my opinion, the purpose of cave paintings was communication rather than art. Imagine… At a time when writing, or even language was not fully advanced, people did not paint for art, socialization, or fun, on the contrary, they employed painting for educational purposes as the medium of communication they used in storification. How, for instance, could we explain the fact that in the Neolithic Era, when there was no travelling or communication with others for two million years, hunting tools worldwide, such as axes, were all of the same kind? Did humanity have some sort of a common mind or someone teaching them? Then what happened and people discovered writing all of a sudden 6 thousand years ago and laid the foundations of our current civilization? People were worshipping idols, which represented various forces in nature back then. So, they were polytheistic. Their gods were weak just as they were, sometimes collaborating and sometimes fighting. How did the primitive people arrive at such thinking without having a similar social life? Or, did everything start with a monotheistic religion and message of revelation? In the old books, we see the presence of a prophet (the one who conveys the divine message) associated with the relevant occupation in every leap of human civilization. Like the Prophet Idris (Hermes), who was a tailor…

Regardless of why and when it was rendered, art is the result of work and social production. The first person to pick out an object from nature and name and denote it was the first artist. Thus, we could also think of the first people who painted on cave walls, put a mark of bounty on their doors, and built the first shelter and the first hut as artists. Perhaps this is what we say instead of admitting we don’t know.

What is the source of art?

1- It is claimed that art was born out of religion and magic in primitive communities. These hunting and magic ceremonies in primitive communities were regarded as a method of collective education and the birth of art was associated with this. The foundations of poetry, music, dance, and drama are believed to be in there.

2-Another thesis is that art was born out of unrequited and aimless imitation. The structure of society rests entirely on imitation, and art is one such structure.

3-Those who account for the source of art with the help of psychology, believe all pleasures are born out of the satisfaction of needs. The more and greater the needs are, the greater the pleasure resulting from their satisfaction.

What is the purpose of art?

Art has religious, emotional, pragmatic, and national purposes. One of its goals is to achieve beauty. However, the beauty here is not beauty in the context of aesthetics. Art mostly exceeds aesthetics and becomes the product of society rather than a single individual soul.

For example, music cleans people of bad feelings and instills good feelings in them. According to the author, the civilizations that made the best use of music in this way were the Greek and Ottoman civilizations. Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname tells us that music was utilized in the treatment of patients in some healthcare centres in the Ottoman Empire.

One of the functions of art is to enable communication among people. In other words,  it enables the individual to convey the spiritual values they accumulated in themselves to others. The information artworks give us is usually not specific to the field of art.

There are some thinkers, particularly those such as Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, who argue that artists deprived of morality and character could adversely impact society. Because the communicational function of art is the prerequisite for the fulfilment of all its other functions. While language can convey messages only among those who speak it, art is accessible to all people and puts forth a common language everyone can understand.

In addition to all these social and cultural purposes, art also has some psychological purposes. The book remarks that art aims to rid the human soul of sadness, various internal pressures, and urges.

The book highlights the ability to establish a balance between the person and their environment as the art’s most important function. It socializes people by pulling them through their individuality and reflects the ability to share their feelings and thoughts. Actually, the purpose of art conforms with that of life.  Isn’t the goal of life “to spread kindness, avoid evil, and do good”?

Art and Nature

Bacon said, “Art is man added to nature.” As in Aristotle’s thought, the beauties in nature may get ugly once in art or ugliness may assume beauty through art. Although sounds, views, smells, and tastes are classified as natural or artificial, the actual difference has to do with the audience’s view and purpose.

Art and Society

In the book, the author writes, “There are two important factors in every aesthetic creation. One of them is the individual’s desires and yearnings, and the other is those of society. The artist can only content themselves with by bringing society to acknowledge their work.  But here, the level the society is at plays a critical role. Because an ordinary society cannot make a conscious judgment on the work of art.”  

Since art emerges in line with the specific needs and perspectives of each period, it is evaluated by these criteria. Changes in society have affected the culture of art. Society, and in turn, art have gone through many stages under the impact of people.

An artist’s reality may not always have parallels with their works. For example, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy became the spokesman for peasants’ interests and ideals, even though he was a member of the noble class.  

Most artists in developed societies have remained economically or ideationally dependent on the sovereign class, having to serve their interests in their works. Also, many artists created works that joined in the rebellion of their changing society.

Regardless of the society, leaders have strived to lead people toward shared goals like a single community through a common language of art used by all. 

Art adds beauty to what happens in daily life. It builds connections among people and societies. Historically, all classic arts emerged in the aristocratic periods. Democracy turned art toward the people’s pleasures and troubles.  

Art loses its genuine quality when its sole purpose is morality. Can the artist serve virtue without worrying about morality in their work? Essentially, if an artist is not concerned with moral principles, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are immoral.  

The artist cannot free themselves from the political, religious, moral, and cultural traditions of their society and become an entity independent of it. On the contrary, they serve the social purpose as an individual of society but sometimes they can get society to trail after their beliefs.   

Art and Freedom

After getting to know the laws of nature, humans have managed to establish superiority in terms of freedom and sovereignty. Although humans are such tiny creatures in the entire universe, they reckoned themselves superior to nature and pursued artistic activities, taking refuge in the endless beauties of the imagination. In a work of art, the subjective and objective condition pertains to the artist and the social condition to the external world. 

Art not only entertains and amuses us but also eliminates our needs and relieves our pain. The artist depends on their own sense of beauty and the social ideals of their choice.

Nationality, Universality, and Art

Societies living together or in different locations in the historical development process put forth a practice of art in line with their styles of living and thinking. Thus, the arts of different societies are characterized by different aspects.

The author argues that humans find whatever is already in nature and design whatever is not. Art reflects life; changes in the national characters of people also lead to changes in art. The artists reflect the problems of their time in their work. National freedom in art emerges in the content first. Only when an artist feels like a part of the people they can be the carrier and representative of the nation’s general character. And the art of a nation exhibits national traits only to the extent that is freed from foreign elements. Manners and customs contribute to the development of art, too. However, through relations with other nations, the manners and customs change and transform in time. Thus, they lose their national aspect.

Economic relations have led to changes in not only the forms and types of art but also its qualitative development. Migrations, invasions, and wars have all added to the texture of art.

Religious interaction is another factor that distorts and alters the nationality of art. After the adoption of Christianity, for example, poetry changed and the old poetry gave way to sacred poetry. Islam allowed the blend of Turkish literature with Arabic and Farsi. So, nations keep influencing each other and changing as part of various neighbourhood and cultural relationships. Their arts also change under such conditions. However, a nation could save itself from all such interactions by disengaging from all foreign nations and countries on its independent territory. Only then the national qualities of art would not degenerate or change. But no society has achieved this so far nor should there be one that does. A nation can’t survive for long in the form of a closed society.  

Art Criticism

The book argues that art criticism makes up a significant part of artistic culture. The function of art criticism is to foster a connection between artistic communication and society and enable the entire system to assume a self-regulating structure. Artistic or scientific tradition, social history, and national class are the elements that form its background. It is the critic’s task to explore and reveal the relationship between these elements and the work.  

The Common and Diverse Features of Art and Science

Comparing science and art yields a list of their common and diverse features. Both are efforts made by people, for the people. Nature is a genuine source for both. In science, external nature matters more while internal nature matters more in art. There is an astonishing harmony between the laws of nature and science.

Art recreates reality by idealizing rather than expressing them as they are. Science, on the other hand, adopts a practical approach.

Modern Art

We can’t identify when modern art began exactly. Economic facts and social events are indirectly related to the stylistic development of art. The fact that wealth diminished when modern art emerged led to a decline in the number of private art sponsors as well. Individual collectors continued to buy artworks for a while more. But the palace, church, or castles could no longer afford to sponsor artists. Because the stages of development of art have been parallel with those of thought, we cannot get around ideas when following the traces of the evolution of modern art.

The slow advance of democracy, widespread education, growth of opportunities, exhibitions, travels, and reproductions have led artworks to resemble each other, resulting in a decrease in the interest of art lovers. The number of average people has grown over time, leading artists to increasingly turn in upon themselves. And the concept of beauty has lost its meaning.

Today’s Sense of Art

Each novelty is considered degraded and worthless at first as it contradicts what we know and have gotten used to. Yet, throughout history, no novelty has failed. Novelty is the most natural necessity for societies and a prerequisite for going forward.  

Novelty begins in art first and is seen in works of art after political and social crises. Life and art resemble each other. Regardless of the extent of adherence to traditions, novelty has driven art throughout history. An artist of our times strives to bring forth what is just as it is, without altering it, with all its vices and virtues.

Art and Technique

Toward the end of the 18th century, the steam engine, weaving machine, and spinning machine were invented. These inventions had a rapid impact on daily life, with people starting to use the machines and adapting the industry to them right away. By 1830, they had entirely made their way into life. Products manufactured with these machines no longer have any appeal or individual traits. They were factory-made, similar products of mass production.

Now, the question was if objects produced with machinery had any artistic qualities. If mass products produced with machinery were works of art, then would the machines take the place of the artist? Works of art and mass products could never have the same value as the work of art is the output of a personality. It is a one-time work, created only once.

Art was born out of freedom whereas the technical product was born out of necessity. What keeps us from viewing the products of the machine age as works of art is mistaking ornament for art.


Postmodernism was born as a reaction against modernism. It is in such a close relationship with modernism, yet continuously questioning it. It is a decentralized form of thought developed in the second half of the 20th century. It claims that there is no absolute, universal, and definable truth and that everything changes. Within postmodernism, the individual is not recognized as a free being as it is affected by and affects its environment.

The complexity of postmodernism resembles our daily life. It strives to put forth something that is more contemporary and modern than modernism itself. It rejects universality and utilizes all means and materials enabled by advanced technology. It exhibits traits of anti-form, anarchy, variety, superficiality, anti-interpretation, and ambiguity. While advocating the revitalization of the past on the one hand, it adopts the elements of contemporary art on the other. The idea of postmodernism was first suggested in France in 1960 and began to spread in the USA in 1970. Its dominant approach can be formulated as “Anything goes with anything.”  

In Ancient Greece, the form of thought in which definitive imperatives determine truth dominated the artworks created until the end of the Medieval Age. Art of the period developed in such a way as to shape the period’s lifestyle. The Renaissance marks the beginning of a period in art where the person was addressed as an individual under the impact of humanistic thought.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, art wanted to immortalize that which is beautiful and valuable through imitation. The advance of industry and its substitution of art’s measures and properties resulted in the widespread use of industry by people. This is how modernism started. The invention of the camera created a necessity for the artist to explain the third dimension of objects in nature as a concept instead of depicting nature by way of mimesis (imitation). New branches of art, such as graphics, which emerged as a result of technical advancements, gave new directions to painting. The advance of the industry created a type of artist that seems disregardful of art. What matters is no longer doing something but coming up with it.

Essence and Form

There is nothing in form in the work of art that does not rest upon the content. Content creates the form in practice. So, the abstract becomes concrete. The concept of essence in art consists of the theme, subject, and meaning. The subject is the concrete case rendered in the work whereas the theme is the idea that can be discussed on political, religious, philosophical, or aesthetic grounds.

The choice of subject is very important. It helps the artist get across their attitude.

The form is defined as the element dependent on content, standing behind it and serving it. It has no artistic value in itself.

As you see, the book gives us an understanding of how and in which direction we can delve deeper into the concepts of art. It was a valuable source for me in that it brought order to and pieced together what I already knew and opened the way to further reading. I found it highly useful. I hope you did, too!  

Note: This open-source article can be quoted by mentioning the author.  No copyright is required.