First of all, there is good old Plato, with his theory of ‘memesis’. According to Plato art is the imitation of reality as we can perceive it. We know the story about the cave and the shadows etc. This theory has little credibility these days as art will in most cases do not (attempt to) reproduce a material object, a landscape, a human being etc. Photographic art may still have such ambitions, and in plastic arts ‘realism’ at times shows impressive work on technical level. Alright, reproducing the reality may train the eye, may improve technical skills, but personally I am not very charmed by photographic art. And I do lack the technical capacity to produce realistic work, although the model drawings, that I introduced on the website, are of acceptable quality.
Secondly, there is the ‘expression-theory’: the artist expresses him/herself (a philosophy, ideas, intentions, etc) via the work of art. I am sure some artists do: Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ as an example, as a protest against the Nazi bombardment in Biscay, Spain in 1937. Alberto Medina’s work mostly deals on social themes (the bad labour conditions in the Bolivian mines for instance) and shows his social engagement. Regarding my own work I find inspiration in the cultural diversity of Bolivia, so mostly painting people, in this way expressing respect and admiration for the colourful Bolivian society.
The third theory – ‘formalism’- puts the art of work in the centre of attention, its qualities, its essence. The work of art in all its characteristics is an autonomous phenomenon, and should be evaluated as such. We can appreciate a work of Raphael as well a work of Andy Warhol, without needing to know much about the artists’ intentions or its historic context.
And finally, some like to combine the second and third theory: art as a wider synthesis of form and expression. Here we try to understand and evaluate the work of art as such, but linked with an good understanding of the artist’s ideas and the social-cultural context. That appears a useful and sensible approach.
But, fortunately, we have some idea now, but still many questions remain unanswered.