Tim certainly provoked engagement in dialogue in starting this thread! Interestingly enough the phrase "so what" seems to have gotten bypassed by our individual passions. So would I be wrong to infer that passion is a component of art?
I must admit I too have difficulty with babies as bumble bees or dogs as Little Red Riding Hood. My photographic experience is less than many of the people who contribute here. Though I was passionate about B&W photography thoughout art school and several years beyond, I only recently began shooting photographs again , after 20 years. Having made the transition from hard media painting to digital work out of commercial necessites, the return to photography in digital format meshed well with my current circumstances. I have always admired landscape photographers because I personally found it difficult to capture those elusive moments I admired with any degree of satisfaction. I whole heartedly agree with Geoff about Anselm Adams as being an example of a "centered" artist. I purchased an original print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico in 1972. I love the photo as much today as I did when I first saw it. That single print took me on an almost magical journey through the poetry of tonal variations possible in black and white photography.
I purchased only one other original photograph two decades later. This one would be more controversial: Man with Dog, by Joel Peter Witkin. I might be sticking my neck out here, but I feel he is also an extremely centered photographer, but considerably more difficult to approach subject wise.
In both cases, what I perceived as the skill of the photographer was an important component of my response. I personally am more engaged by work that appears to be skillfully executed. I might infer from this that for me art needs to be skillfully executed. But the degree to which that skillfullness is apparanent is a variable I cannot always quantify. Being a painter, I am more sentive to sublte nuances in this media. I know how hard it is (or not) to achieve certain qualities of brush stroke, certain nuances of shading etc. These perceptions evolve over time and may change dramatically. Alain Briot metioned this as a component of art for him.
I find myself smiling in agreement with several of Geoff's other statements. Once upon a time, I was one of those smug students brandishing her portfolio as a body of work. In defense I would add that art school is for learning and part of learning is testing the boundaries of what we learn. Hopefully we learn from our mistakes.
Art has always co-existed with a commercial component, for better or worse. The number of venues for visual expression has expanded phenomenally, as have the venues that exist in symbiosis to art. Ocassionally symbiotic becomes parasitic. The issue of ethics reaches deeply into all human interaction, of which art is only one variation. Sheldon raised the idea of knowing intention as an entrance to understanding. I don't completely believe this to be necessary in relation to discussing"What is Art", though it migh prove helpful in marginal instances. In discussions of ethics however it would seem to be essential.
Tim's original point was, I think, to question how our attention is engaged, and if we understand how, to then effectively increase the depth of engagement so we might make our own work more meaningful for ourselves and others.