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One can wonder about the essence of the work of art because of the multiplicity of arts and works: they do not seem to have characteristics in common that justify giving them the same name and sharing the same essence.

Nothing in appearance. Except that in all cases, it seems we always have three elements:

  1. A work of art is the product or effect of the activity or project of a human being called an artist.
  2. Its characteristic is that it addresses a public (large or chosen) on which it has certain effects, such as emotions, infatuation, pleasure and the production of discourse, the whole being most often linked to the beauty of the works.
  3. It is an object in relation to other objects in the world of which it seems to say something: it is common to argue that works of art represent and/or express something. This would mean that they refer to something other than themselves.

Does this mean that the essence of a work of art has been defined in this way? Shouldn’t it be argued that a work of art is a beautiful object, which represents or expresses something and which is produced by an artist in order to create an impression on an audience? In which case, it would be made of these three relationships: to an author, to an audience and to reality.

Why have certain objects that are famous for their art today not always been so? Why have certain objects that were not initially works of art, such as cave paintings, masks, ornaments, become works of art? Why have some, by losing their initial function: ritual, religious, magical, have they acquired this status of work of art and not others? What justifies these changes in status?

Why variations in judgments from one audience to another? Why do some reproductions of paintings or drawings bore or make art lovers smile? Conversely, why are some works that are recognized as works of art in that they are in museums not considered as such by the general public who judge that they are not art, but fraud?

Why recognize as artists individuals who do not consider themselves as such, and moreover refuse this title to some of those who claim it?

Why all these misunderstandings between authors and public, between different audiences about works, their beauty, their expressiveness or what they represent?

In short, if in order to be able to say that an object is a work of art, the three elements that are the artist, the public and a certain relationship of the work to reality must be present, let us recognize that these three elements do not appear in a simultaneous and harmonious way.

It is when the presence of one of the three succeeds in bringing about that of the other two that an object becomes art.

It is because such an object is beautiful that a public will say that it is a work of art and therefore that its author is an artist. It is because the author of such a work is an artist that one will find beauty or aesthetic qualities in it.

It is because an object is expressive or because it forcefully represents something that it will be considered a work of art by an audience and it is because it has these qualities that it will eventually be found beautiful.

But if one of the three is the cause of the other two, isn’t one of them decisive? And if so, which of the three elements is decisive? Which of the three determines the other two? The artist, the artistic creation? The audience, the public’s appreciation? The work as it represents or expresses something, the nature of the object and its relationship to the world?