Sunday, 9 December 2007

The verb/noun conundrum

Taking water, Canary Wharf, July 2007
Is he a nouner or verber?

While I regard art (particularly the visual arts) as a noun, there are instances when I definitely reflect on it as a verb. There is, in this sense, a difference between the work (as in work of art) and using art to reflect a skill.

Reading the etymology of the word is useful, I think:
c.1225, "skill as a result of learning or practice," from O.Fr. art, from L. artem.
In M.E. usually with sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c.1305), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts (divided into the trivium -- grammar, logic, rhetoric -- and the quadrivium --arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from 1386.
art. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 09, 2007, from website:
I come across both these senses as an engineer. Despite being in an engineering subject, I have a Bachelor of Arts degree. The former sense presented here (skill) I come across, and use, to denote those things that cannot be done by knowledge alone. We often talk about certain practices being "an art" to reflect the fact that a measure of skill is required. I think the "art as verb" crowd are coming from this direction to art (although maybe not consciously).

It is interesting to read the more modern definitions that comes above the etymological reference, where art is strictly a noun in the sense we are talking here.

Thus the talk of Art as either verb or noun is conjuring up both the modern and ancient definitions in comparison with one another.


  1. I think of art as a verb. It's something that you do. As yet, I've never seen a good definition of art as a noun. Art is so very subjective and so very much in the eye of the beholder, or the recipient, that it would be next to impossible to give it a good 'noun' definition.

  2. Paul, the lexicographers would disagree. That's part of the reason I posted the link: not a single (in this context) verb definition of the word.
    I think maybe "art as verb" actually really leans towards "art as abstract noun".


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