In The Art Instinct, art philosopher and author Denis Dutton, isolates 12 core characteristic features of art across times and cultures. Some of these refer to acts of creation, some to the objects created, some to the experience of those objects.
The following 9 of those characteristics provide criteria by which an individual work might be evaluated and assessed as art:
1. Direct Pleasure. The art object – narrative story, crafted artefact or visual or aural performance – must be valued as a source of immediate experiential pleasure in itself.
2. Skill & Virtuosity. The demonstration of skill is one of the most essential – and deeply moving and pleasurable – aspects of art.
3. Style. Objects and performances are made in recognisable ways, according to rules of form, composition and expression. Within those confines, they often break the rules of their chosen style.
4. Novelty & Creativity. Art is always praised for its novelty, creativity, originality and capacity to surprise.
5. Representation. In widely vary degrees, art objects represent or imitate real or imaginary experiences.
6. Expressive Individuality. The potential to express personality is generally latent in art.
7. Emotional Saturation. Art is shot through with emotion – both in terms of the emotions provoked or incited by the work and the works own emotional contour or perspective.
8. Intellectual Challenge. Works of art tend to be designed to utilize the combined variety of human capacities to the full extent. Indeed, the best works stretch them beyond ordinary limits.
9. Imaginative Experience. Finally, and most importantly, artistic experience always takes place in the theatre of the imagination.
For more, read Chapter 3 'What Is Art?' in The Art Instinct: Beauty Pleasure & Human Evolution
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