What is art?

Dr. James Fox

Art is an essential part of what it means to be human. But what is art? When did we start creating it? And why do we still need it?

Watch preview

Learn about this Garden Talk

Humans have been making paintings and sculptures for thousands of years, but for most people the concept of ‘Art' remains deeply mysterious. In this brand new series, art historian James Fox aims to clear up those mysteries.

In his first talk in the series, James will be answering the most fundamental question of all: what is art?

Taking us on a journey from prehistoric cave painting to the contemporary art scene, James will explore some of the masterpieces of world art and dive deep into the history of philosophy to tackle a series of related questions: When did we start making art? Why do we make it? Can art be anything? Can anything be art? And if so, who gets to decide what is and isn’t art? These questions have never been more relevant than today, when so much art doesn’t seem to be art at all.

James is an art historian at the University of Cambridge, as well as a curator, award-winning broadcaster and the best-selling author of The World According To Colour.

Talk chapters:

3.53 - Natural art from 3 million years ago

8.14 - 19th century understanding of art

12.13 - Art in the 20th century

14.04 - An 'open concept'

18.28 - The functionalist approach

24.17 - The institutionalist approach

28.54 - What question should we be asking?

Talk outline


50 minutes


Art's Biggest Questions

About the Fellow

Dr. James Fox

James fell in love with art at the age of six and hasn't looked back since. He is now an art historian at the University of Cambridge, a curator, an award-winning broadcaster and the author of bestselling book The World According to Colour.

Art's Biggest Questions Collection

Join our 4-part series as we explore the world of art with Cambridge Art Historian & Broadcaster, Dr James Fox.