The question, "What is Art"? has been a problem and a subject of debate for thousands of years. Great philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and 3rd century philosopher Plotinus, as well as many contemporary philosophers such as Nietzsche, Marx, Wittgenstein, Bell, Collingwood, Dickie, Wollenheim and Barthes have argued its" definition and come up with their own numerous definitions. While the ancient philosophers concentrated more on the idea of the aesthetics (a term not introduced until 1753 by German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, even though the study of the nature of beauty had been pursued for centuries), the contemporary philosophers meant to define art, they both have a lot in common as we are faced nowadays with such things as a pile of bricks being entitled art. Anyone who thought about the subject has been forced to consider where the boundaries of art lie. In the following I will use the definitions given by the philosophers to analyse a work of art.
According to Plato and classical aesthetics, what we see on canvas is a second interpretation of an interpretation. He believed that reality consisted of archetypes (forms) and that what we perceive around us is only an imitation of these archetypes, therefore Klimt's Birch Forest is an interpretation of a perfect birch forest, reinterpreted. Aristotle saw it slightly different. He saw such a painting as an imitation of things as they ought to be. He believed that an artist, in this case Klimt, separated the form from the trees and imposed this onto another matter; canvas. He believed that this was a particular representation of an aspect of things and that this was an imitation of the universal whole. In contrast, Plotinus a Neoplatonic philosopher born in Egypt believed that art reveals an object more clearly than is possible in ordinary experience.
Nietzsche believed that art was only for the strong as this was the only thing able to convert the terrors of the universe into beauty and to be contemplated with enjoyment.