My definition of art is that it is uniquely identified to the artist. This works in music as well as the graphic arts. When you see a Rockwell, you know its a Rockwell; same works for Miles Davis. Originality is what we celebrate. There have been millions upon millions of paintings painted, but how is it we all recognize the greatness of just a few artists? Being an artist is defining yourself as unique and identifiable. Its just that simple. It usually takes an artist a lifetime to achieve this. Ofen it is not recognized in their lifetimes. But if it meets the time test standard, you usually can be sure it is great.
“Originality is what we celebrate.”
Since the Romantic Age yes, I’d agree. But that was not always the case. Originality/creativity was part of the equation but there were also considerations of expertise/virtuosity (the artist’s skill), subjective value (whether the spectator got pleasure from the work), form/style (how well the work conforms to rules of composition), and imitation (how well the work reproduces natural beauty; not necessarily in an exact sense).
I submit that without originality, a work can still be art, so long as it satisfies other qualities. It may not be as high an achievment as it otherwise might have been, but it’s still art.
“but how is it we all recognize the greatness of just a few artists?”
Sometimes it’s a matter of accident, sometimes of periodically alternating tastes. But you dealing here with the very heights of high art. For every one DaVinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, or Turner, there are thousands of lesser masters whose talent others would kill to possess. And for every one of those masters, there are thousands of hacks no one will remember after a generation, but who were still artists.
We can get bogged down constantly focusing on the Great Names. It’s one of the reasons Rockwell has been ignored by art snobs in the past 60 or whatever years. He’s nice and all, but is he a Rembrandt? Well, no, but do you have to be a Rembrandt to be a quality artist? No.