In the scheme of writing a larger work (a critique of post-modern art) I decided that an operational definition was necessary. This is about all I could come up with, that is inclusive to what we generally call art. The ultimate goals of the work is dividing what we call art, from what actually can be Art. I'm using the caps distinction like philosophy generally uses "Truth", and "truth". I also want to explore the experience and mechanics of art (not general aesthetics, which is generally permissible in philosophy).
The following definition is rather "leaky" in that it bars a couple things we now call art. Ikons and things such as Navajo sand painting, which is now considered art, but isn't intentionally created to be aesthetic communications. I am open to dialogue on this topic, which is why I am posting such a tentative work to the public. So any artist, poet, writer, or philosoph who wants to chime in, please feel free to do so.
Art is one of those terms that has proven itself to defy definition. In the real world, art is immediately obvious, we know it when we see it, but cannot define it, but to actually discuss it, we need an operation definition to separate art from not-art. Art is generally a skill, craft or practice (as evident from its latin origin “ars”) that aims for some aesthetic impact. This would place the more unconventional areas that we colloquially don’t think of as art into the same class as more classically regarded practices such as visual arts, music, and the textual arts. To narrow this down to fit the conventional usage of the term, we would need to include a more limiting clause, such as the popular post-modern category of “uselessness” (as discussed on my blog, previously), which limits art to aesthetics-for-the-sake-of-aesthetics, discarding unconventional fields such as industrial design and most cases of architecture.
This “utility clause” might be too limiting, since sometimes art is a medium for expression, such as protest or other public displays of issues of import to the artist. Intent might be a limiting factor, where art must exist as art, with the intent to be art. To make this more analytical, art must exist, by intention, for its own sake. This is, to be honest, a rather contrived definition. This would separate art from the non-intentionally aesthetic, such as works of architecture, whose aesthetics are intrinsic to their overt purpose, and not contained within their purpose itself.
The latin origin “ars” also can mean trickery or cunning, which can serve to highlight another aspect of the arts, it tries, through various stylistic manipulations, to trick the viewer (after creation) into seeing something in the artists head. This also is a display of intention, art can be seen, in this light, as a form of intentional aesthetic communication between two parties, that of the creator, and that of the spectator.
These definitions are imperfect, admittedly, the allow somethings to be called art which are not normally, and exempt some forms of expression that we do call art in daily life. Art, as stated, is impossible to define because of its social nature, the definition of what art is, and what art can be, changes with cultural circumstance. Definition is also problematic because of the inherent subjectivity contained within it, art is personal, and aesthetic judgement varies from individual to individual.