Hi Mat, I going to bore you with a fairly lengthy excerpt from a fairly lengthy collection of essays I wrote as a memoir for my kids and grandkids.
If you post photographs on a site like Luminous Landscape, which I've done for the last seven years, sooner or later you run into the question: "what is art?" Everybody seems to have a definition. In fact the word "art" has so many different meanings that standing alone it's meaningless. You need to define it before you use it. So, for what's to follow I'll define it: "Art is something created by a human being that gives you a transcendental experience."
What's a transcendental experience? Merriam-Webster gives several meanings for that word, but the one I'm after is derived from "transcendence": "A state of being or existence above and beyond the limits of material experience." In other words, if I look at a painting and my reaction is, "it's pretty," though it's clear I like the painting, what I've gotten from it isn't a transcendental experience. On the other hand if I look at a painting and something inside me cries or shouts, and I don't know how to describe the effect the painting has on me, it's given me a transcendental experience.
For me, music produces the most vivid examples of the difference. I like Linda Ronstadt's collection, "Round Midnight," and I liked a lot of the stuff Credence Clearwater Revival did. But though Linda is pleasant and Credence is fun, they're both a long way from, say, Pavarotti singing Panis Angelicus, which never fails to bring me to tears, and not because it's pretty. Luciano interprets Cιsar Franck's masterpiece in a way that reaches deep inside me and opens a door to my soul. That's a transcendental experience. The composer who can do that most often is Giacomo Puccini, but there are others who produce what for me is powerful art.
I don't mean to imply that in order to be called "art," a work always has to knock you down the way Panis Angelicus knocks me down. I think there are degrees. The important thing is that the art gives you an experience you can't put into words; an experience beyond the literal meaning of the work itself. Going back to Linda's "Round Midnight," there's some Gershwin in that collection that pushes up to and maybe a bit beyond the bounds of simple human experience.
Poetry is another art form that can be very powerful, though perhaps not as powerful as music. The difference, I think, is that music doesn't depend on symbols of human experience. It bypasses experience and speaks directly to the soul. Poetry must use words, and words have meanings that often are independent of their significance in a poem. Here's a stanza from Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night":
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Taken at face value the words are gibberish, but the imagery, like great music, goes beyond the words and touches something deeper than comprehension; deeper than mind.
There's a lot more in this vein, but most of it has to do with my own history in poetry and photography and it's of interest mainly to my family.
I think this is the kind of thing your commenter was trying to say. I guess Rob's "awe" is as good a word as any to describe what anybody trying to make art is after. First of all the work has to mean something to you. Beyond that, if it's going to be considered "art" it has to have more than passing interest to others. Tourist photography is easy. Art is hard. But Rob's right. First you have to please yourself. That's what really matters. Most of the rest is just an ego trip.