When is something Art and when is it just a painting?

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Fiona Williams _Whos That Girl (Its In The Eyes) 2019 Fiona J Williams Acrylic on Canvas 90cm x 61cm

Right: "Who's That Girl (Its In The Eyes) 2019 Fiona J Williams. Acrylic on Canvas. 90cm x 61cm.

Left Detail of eye in painting "Who's that Girl?"

Detail of eye in painting "Who's that Girl?" (Its In The Eyes) 2019 Fiona J Williams. Acrylic on Canvas. 90cm x 61cm.

When is something Art and when is it just a painting?

So you found an art piece that you like, but you are unsure if it is actually 'art'. You are either unsure if you know enough about art, or you are scared that you are being duped into buying something that has na value in any of the ways it is being sold to you. And in the 100s of calls we have gotten, a friend or acquaintance has made a comment doubting a beloved art piece. So you came looking for an expert to check in. Tascha Sciarone is writing this as an Art Historian and a gallery owner to explore the concept between Art and art. Hopefully this explanation will help you make an informed decision going forward. 


Ultimately however, art is in the eye of the beholder, but you can consider these 7 things to get a better understanding when something is more likely to be considered art.

Art Historian Tascha Sciarone with paintings by artist Marko Klomp at Art Laren in 2022.
Art Historian Tascha Sciarone with paintings by artist Marko Klomp an Negar Rashidi at the art fair Art Laren in 2022.

Art Historian Tascha Sciarone with paintings by artist Marko Klomp an Negar Rashidi at the art fair Art Laren in 2022.

1. When it is intentionally created to express emotions, ideas, or aesthetic qualities

The person, aka the artist, has spent significant time intentionally crafting the pieces. Sometimes the thread of the art can be better understood after creating multiple pieces. But the artist has intentionally set out to make a body of work. We have the rule at the gallery, if one artwork is amazing, but the rest does not compare, then this amazing piece was an accident.

At the gallery, we look for an artist who has intentionality as well as dedicated themselves to their craft. This allows for works to not only be aesthetically pleasing but continue to evoke emotions. 


Bring us to point 2. The artist's artwork has an impact on the viewers. Provoking thoughtful discussions, or emotion. 

2. When it has an impact on the viewer, evoking an emotional response or provoking thought

When an artwork speaks to you, this is when you should consider it art. As long as an artwork continues to intrigue and evoke a response from viewers, it is art. Now, this can be manipulated by marketing and shock factors, but I would like you to consider what artwork does to you and if it continues to engage you.

Another aspect that is important to me and I hope to you as well does the art align with my social and political values. As a female gallery owner, I am often disgusted by the amount of artwork present at art fairs with large pieces that have images of young hurt or nude girls and boys in the artwork. Children. I am horrified every time again by how widespread P is in the art world and how comfortable people are in portraying it. On LinkedIn and other social media platforms, I constantly flag this type of art. I digress but also urge you to spend time reflecting on your aesthetic likes and also maybe add a layer of doing research into what type of artist is behind the work. Unfortunately in an unregulated market, as the art world is, a lot of abuse goes unchecked. A lot of gallery owners will continue to support problematic artists, as long as it keeps selling.

This art is evoking a very strong emotion of anger and repulsion in me, while still being showcased to a large audience at an art fair. I, however, do not consider this art, but rather as a disgusting visual reminder of how much still needs to change in the art world. So simple evocation isn't art on its own. One should also consider the artist's intent. We look for artwork that is open to multiple interpretations, has a soothing quality and tends to provoke thoughtful discussions in its viewers. We strongly select pieces that bring joy, beauty and make us think about what it means to be human. Art that is suitable for your home, a space of rest.

3. When it is recognized as such by the artist themselves or by others in the art community

In art, once it is made, the artist can no longer control the narrative of the artwork. Some artists hate this, other artists embrace this. I for one do not believe that artists are only artists when another recognizes that person as an artist. No artist's body of work will speak to all people and that is okay. If the validation of being an artist comes from external authority, I think leads to a lot of depression and self-doubt in an artist. The validation cannot be solely from an external factor. But for a very long time, it was bad etiquette to call yourself an artist without external validation. 


The artist of the gallery has to acknowledge themselves as artists and take themselves seriously before I can work with them. The intrinsic belief of being an artist is what makes them an artist. Whether or not the artwork is good. At Gallery Sorelle Sciarone we expect artists to first and foremost be able to say they are an artist. Then from their body of work, we can decide if their pieces fit into the gallery's vision. Here is an article articulating exactly what we look for in artwork.

Its important that the artists are intentional in their being and craft. Not use art as an external form of validation.

Criteria at Gallery Sorelle Sciarone


This brings us to the next point: capturing the hearts and minds of people viewing the art.

4. When it is displayed in a gallery, museum, or other cultural institution as a work of art

The importance is that the artwork is shown to people. If art does not have an audience, or fails to capture the imagination, it is no longer art. Not many artworks manage to capture the attention of everyone and even less pieces continue to capture the attention past a generation. So the moment an artwork captures your attention, it becomes art. The audience can be for one, a family, an office, an institution etc. As long as it is shown it is art. Displaying art in public spaces allows for a larger and larger audience. Therefore building more cultural capital around the artwork. Rather I would like to use the following part as a better marker of art.


The gallery is an institution, so we do not use this as a marker to define art. However, we do spend a lot of time looking and finding art, before we settled on who we represent. For many people you know going to a gallery we have sifted through countless works, separating the wheat from the chaff. 

5. When it is sold as a work of art and valued for its cultural or aesthetic significance

Some people will only recognize artists if their artwork sells, and also only when it continues to sell. Just for example only published authors are considered authors, even though there might be some lady considered a housewife in her normal life, but has published several thousand chapters of fanfic with a large following without any payment. I find this a tricky criterion, as many great artists might sell well for a few years, before fading into obscurity, while other artists, will only really sell after their deaths. I would never use this criterion to decide whether or not something is art. The art market is extremely fickle as well as unregulated and biased.

Another reason we do not make use of this criterion, some art fairs we will sell 8 pieces by one artist and none by another other artist. And at another art fair vice versa. Also one year we will sell 12 pieces by one artist and then none for 2 or 3 years. We think it is highly unethical and destructive to the environment and artists to continuously demand new artwork and only showcase new artworks while disregarding older works. Which has been an unsustainable trend in the contemporary primary art world. Sometimes it takes time before an artwork lands in front of those who will cherish it.

And some of our artists sell dozens of artwork per year and others only one or two, but they sell at different price points, where one makes more a year in a single sale than another does in two dozen sales. 

6. When it is subject to critical analysis and interpretation by art historians, critics, or scholars

When a piece is taken up into a gallery, museum or other institution, there are often articles and documentation made around the piece. From the sale receipts to the articles written and archival receipts made. This way the artwork is written and thought about. Academic texts and institutions reflect on the artwork and make reproductions of the artwork allowing it to be studied even if the actual artwork is lost to time. As long as there is ongoing engagement with the artwork, no matter at what level, it is art. The more prestigious the institution, space and people engaging with the artwork, the more cultural capital is awarded to the artwork, increasing its "Art" status.


The lowest form would be marketing texts. Followed by analysis by experts, critique by critics and finally being incorporated into academic and archival writing. With the hopes that the academic and archival writing is not lost to a too-small audience. However, it does increase the longevity of the artwork being considered art. 

We are dedicated to documenting and exploring all the artwork at Gallery Sorelle Sciarone. Tascha Sciarone is an Art Historian and knows the importance of contemporary documentation. We aim to capture how the artwork made by the artists is perceived by the public and academics alike.

7. When it is considered innovative, experimental, or pushing the boundaries of traditional art forms

I wrote a long part about the art canon and how that is supposedly created by artists and the work that signifies a dramatic shift in our culture. Then I went on to explain how this canon is neither impartial and was created largely during a patriarchal and colonial period. This second attempt tries to be less preachy but knows that the foundation of how we perceive canon is academically and institutionally regarded as wrong and detrimental to the greater history of art and creation. 


So to summarise since the Second World War we have stepped away from this type of thinking around art. This model of linear innovative growth with one pioneer or genius is no longer the way we view the world. 

To further read about this I suggest the following pieces:

Part 1: Why we love the term Golden Age

Part 2: Dutch Golden Age vs. Seventeenth Century the Debate

Understanding Post Studio Art Practices

How to understand contemporary art.


Discovery Art Fair Booth of Gallery Sorelle Sciarone in Frankfurt 2022. Works by Marko Klomp, Adéle du Plessis and Negar Rashidi are seen here.

Discovery Art Fair Booth of Gallery Sorelle Sciarone in Frankfurt 2022. Works by Marko Klomp, Adéle du Plessis and Negar Rashidi are seen here.

Eye of the Beholder meets intent and dedication of the Artist

Ultimately, we want to stress the importance of being comfortable with what you like. Whether you can articulate it or not. This is the most important aspect of enjoying and ultimately owning art. You need to like it. How you interpret the above criteria of whether or not something is art, I hope you realised art is subjective. And we create the criteria of whether or not we understand it is art. The fun thing is, the more you spread your joy and love of the artwork you collect or admire, the more you are validating it as an artwork. This is also ultimately what this gallery is doing: find art we like and spend a large part of our professional life showing it to more and more people. It would be nice if the piece sold but is not the only marker of good art. A lot of bad and problematic pieces get sold for all the wrong reasons. So it is also important to look at the artists dedication to his craft and intentions behind creating art work.

Marko Klomp's 2022 Exhibition Perseverancein 2022.

Marko Klomp's 2022 Exhibition Perseverance in 2022.

Artist Adéle du Plessis shortly before her opening

Artist Adéle du Plessis shortly before her opening The Forms of Everyday Life


Art is a subjective and complex concept that can be difficult to define. Generally, Art can be defined as a form of expression that conveys emotions, ideas, or aesthetic qualities through various mediums such as paint, sculpture, music, or literature. However, if the art pieces fail to capture the imagination of the audience, then eventually the pieces, no matter how good will be lost to time.


Ultimately, the distinction between when paint is considered art and when it is not depends on the intention behind the application of the paint and how it is perceived by the viewer. The viewers picking up that art that has managed to engage them and going with it, is what adds cultural capital to an artwork which will lead to it being taken up into more established space. 


So if you have an artwork you have collected, you can advocate for that artist and artwork by sharing it with you network. You can even write your thoughts and feelings about the artwork. Once art is released into the world by the artist, it belongs to us all.


And in this written piece, Fiona J. Williams artwork: "Who's that girl? (Its In The Eyes)" 2019 artwork becomes a metaphor that art is subjective to who views it. And then continues to foster it. And technically everything at the gallery is Art, because it is being lovingly fostered and shared. I encourage you to continue to read and expand on your definition of art.

Thank you for taking the time to read this piece. I hope some things have been clarified for you and it helps ou further along in your art collecting or art loving journey. And I also hope you realise as viewer you are an active participant in art. Your contribution matters, whether that is leaving feedback, looking at it or showing it to your friends or colleagues.



Love, Tascha Sciarone

Art Historian Tascha Sciarone taking a selfie with one of Thea van Doorn's enigmatic miniature pieces from her series "Vrouw en Hond" an ongoing decade long art series.

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