SAT Writing and Language Practice Test: What is Art?

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What is Art?

Look around you. Do you see art in your immediate surroundings? What qualities 23 decide that certain things are art? Definitions of art vary widely, but most tend to fall within general notions 24 that have developed over the centuries. The technical ability of an ancient Egyptian potter to produce a well-made clay vessel defined his "art." In Europe 600 years ago, trade and professional organizations from shoemaking to banking 25 would hold to this broad definition of art as skill in a particular field. The currently popular notion of the artist as the creator and definer of art-put simply, "Art is what artists create"-is a relatively recent one.

Some items and activities in our environment 26 stand out in a conspicuous way as somehow more "art" than others. The way that the visual elements of particular buildings, chairs, album covers, or athletic performances-their line, color, shape, texture, and other visual elements-combine to please the senses, is so satisfying that we call them beautiful. 27

Prior to the twentieth century, most philosophers of art believed that beauty was the defining feature of art. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, some aestheticians had begun to find this definition insufficient. Some said that the defining characteristic of art was the effective expression of 28 emotion; but others said the effective communication of ideas. One influential group, the formalists, argued that an object or activity qualifies as art 29 when its form is sufficiently compelling or inspiring or beautiful to provoke an intense sensory response. This echoed the ancient Greek definition of aesthetic: "of or pertaining to the senses" or "sensuous perception."

Aesthetic experiences are not as rare as you might think. If you have ever felt yourself swept away in the sensuous experience of a sports event, a musical performance, a film, a sunset, or a 30 painting: you have had an aesthetic experience. Look around again. Do any objects in your field of vision provoke an aesthetic experience? 31 Is it skill, beauty, expression, communication, compelling form, or all of the above that make these art for you? Or is it some other quality, such as originality or creativity, 32 that makes these objects or activities stand out as art?

Does setting matter? Would a sports photo become more "artistic" if it were placed in an art museum? According to George Dickie's "institutional theory of art," major art institutions, such as museums, determine what is art in a given culture. 33

Perhaps art is a concept that cannot have a fixed definition. Perhaps, like a living organism, it must evolve.


  • B. arrange
  • C. regulate
  • D. determine


  • B. developing
  • C. which are developed
  • D. as developed


  • B. hold
  • C. had held
  • D. held


  • B. are conspicuous for how they stand out
  • C. stand out
  • D. stand out conspicuously

27. The end of the second paragraph could be best enhanced with a sentence about

  • A. an alternate theory of beauty
  • B. why a particular chair is beautiful
  • C. how to design more beautiful buildings
  • D. the benefits of art therapy


  • B. emotion; others said it was
  • C. emotion, others said it was
  • D. emotion; while others said it was


  • B. if its form sufficiently compels
  • C. if its form is sufficiently compelling
  • D. if it's form is sufficiently compelling


  • B. painting; you
  • C. painting-you
  • D. painting, you


  • B. Are they
  • C. Do
  • D. Are


  • B. making these objects that stand out
  • C. that make these objects stand out
  • D. that stands out in these objects to make them

33. Which of the following sentences serves as the most effective concluding sentence for this paragraph?

  • A. Dickie, a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Illinois, has championed the work of philosopher David Hume.
  • B. Nearly every major city has museums dedicated to the display of works of fine art such as paintings, sculptures, and performance art.
  • C. Other institutions, such as schools and governments, also provide definitions for concepts like education and public value.
  • D. This theory forces us to ask: is art truly in the eye of the beholder, or is it in the eye of the artist, the curator, or some critical mass of the consuming public?