Art of the Automobile: Can cars be “art”?

Packard Twelve 1608 Derham 10

In order to discuss this question we must first have a definition of “art” itself. The definition of art is largely personal will vary between individuals to some degree to be sure. There is some consensus though. “Art” consists of a deliberate action that is meant to evoke an emotional or sensual response, or meant to convey a message from the creator. It is a medium with which people may express themselves, and can really be anything at all. The factors defining “art” exist more in the reasons for doing something than the actual tangible result of such an action. This is because the motivation of the artist is what will ultimately determine the potency of their work’s effects on others.

With that said, I would have to argue that there is a potential for “art” in any area that requires human creativity. If you look at a car, any car, you need to realize that every little bit of it was designed by people, everything from the headlights and the body of the car, to the seats and dashboard, and even each little screw and bolt holding the car together. There is a blank canvass in every single aspect of a car, but as I said before “art” is rooted in the motivation of the creator, so I would definitely not consider every car a work of “art”. The same holds true in that every sound that you hear is not automatically music, and not every canvass with markings on it is a masterpiece to be framed and covered. “Art” however, is just as present in the automotive field as any other lets look at some examples.

Many traditional styles of “art” have taken to the subject of automobiles. I’m sure you all noticed the cover picture for this article (at the top). It is a painting I have that was done by my friend, teacher, and fellow car enthusiast, mister Tom Montanari. I chose to use it because it shows “art on many different levels. The first is in Tom being the painter using his creativity and skill to compose such a work. Getting the proportions and details of the car, architecture, nature, and landscape just right as well as the layout of the painting itself and the colors used to create it are all huge factors that make this painting his work of “art”. On the next level there is the car, a Ferrari 250 GTO, which is a complete masterpiece unto itself in every aspect of visual design and sculpture, the audible symphony that its V12 produces under throttle, and finally the experience and sensations it will give anyone who gets behind the wheel to drive it. There is also much “art” in the architecture and natural beauty in the painting but my focus is on automotive art here so I won’t digress.

Many cars are “art” all on their own though. Designers often use natural shapes as inspiration for their designs. Some of the prettiest cars have been inspired by “the curves of a voluptuous woman” and manage to catch some of that sexy allure. It can be well argued that the female form is the basis for much of what is considered “art”, so it makes sense that car designers would follow that trend. Regardless of the inspiration, many cars out there were designed with someone’s passion and creativity, and many of them make quite a statement when beheld by the eyes.

Apart from design the way a car sounds is another form of an art form within an automobile. The sound of a well breathing, fine tuned engine will send shivers down your spine and envelope you in an aural ecstasy that will leave you craving for more.

Behold the V12 from the Lamborghini Miura:

The most unique aspect of the “art of an automobile is the effect a great car can have on the driver. I call this aspect a cars “dynamic feel”, but in plain terms it is the way a car feels when you drive it and the way that makes you feel in return. Some cars just fill the driver with excitement, some help you relax, and some just put a smile on your face. If a car makes the driver feel good in any way then something has been done right when it was being created. There is a lot of really nerdy technical gibberish in “how” engineers create the dynamic feel of a car, but in the end it just matters that it’s there for most people.

Finally when a car has been completed and hits the road, it becomes one total entity made up of everything that went into it. In the best cars, the total entity is art. Now this can be achieved by all of the pieces being made as art by their creators and adding up to a whole, but most of the time truly great cars are seen as the whole from the beginning and are made with the total entity in mind and not as pieces to be added. Many such cars are said to “have a soul” by their creators and many who experience them because there comes a certain level where a car can feel alive to the driver, not unlike a horse actually. Artful automobiles are all about the symbiosis of man and machine, and not just about basic transportation. So when looking at a car think of its purpose as a machine, and if that purpose is about more than just function, if it is then it is likely that such a car could be considered “art”.

Had to throw in the E-Type as the finale, just gorgeous…



6 thoughts on “Art of the Automobile: Can cars be “art”?”

  1. It’s easy for me to tell if a car is art. If after looking at a beautiful car, all I can think about is having a @cigarette – then I know it’s art.

    The thing is … I don’t smoke.

    That said, Jessica Alba has the same effect on me 🙂


  2. All I. Know is: I know I’ve seen great art when. Afterwards, all I can think of is having a cigarette.

    The thing is … I don’t smoke …

    … and now I want a whole pack.


    1. Car design as art is carefully explained in Bella Mangusta, The Italian Art and Design of the De Tomaso Mangusta. A design book for artists, students and car enthusiasts, the book has sixty-four stunning large images and 7000 words, Written by a car designer and artist.


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