Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why Is It (Not) Art?

Why Is It (Not) Art?, article.
Ctein touches on a subject with which I've conflicted with many readers before: what makes something art or not.
If you recall, I claim that if something is clearly and sincerely intended as art, it is art by definition, and saying that it is not art is a value judgment and not a category judgment. It might be great art or lousy art of insignificant art, but my viewpoint is that categories are important in thinking and communicating about things, and using categories-redefinitions as invalidation is confusing and unnecessary.

I think the argument hinges on the widespread perception/belief that calling something Art is implying that it's valuable, and this is what people might want to knock down in specific cases. I say that calling it art does not imply that it's good or bad, just what it is, as opposed to, say, food or a house or a car or a cloud or an insect.

It's similar to the pornography discussion recently. I think it would clarify communication if people would stick to the category definition (text or pictures intended as sexual stimulant) rather than the value definition (worthless smut).

I'll admit though that the whole discussion is confused (as Ctein touches on) by the actual definition of "art" being very much up in the air. Many people feel that it perforce has to involve some display of skill, while others, like Marcel Duchamp, feel that just declaring a urinal to be art makes it art, that it's the intention which counts.

On tOP, John Camp wrote:
"Duchamp's 'Fountain' and some of his other 'readymades' were jokes. In fact, Duchamp's most salient personal characteristic, present throughout his career, was his sense of humor. He had nothing but disdain for people who took some of his pronouncements seriously. He was, at times, an artist, but most often used his art to ridicule the foolishness of his day. Arrant nonsense was just as prevalent then as it is now.

Well, that makes sense. A lot of sense. However I still feel we should not out-of-hand dismiss the Intention theory of art. There are lots of grey areas. For example, take an old wall with patches of different kinds of bricks, remnants of old posters, etc. Most people will just walk past it. But a perceptive person can walk past and get an aesthetic experience from it. If he's a snapshooter, he may transfer that experience to another person, but it's unlikely. But if he's an artist, he could do it, and it's art. Even if it's seemingly just a straight record of the wall.
Or he could tear the wall down and re-erect it in a gallery. Is that art? Would it be art if he had built a new wall in the gallery, but it looked exactly like the old wall?


Timo Lehtinen said...

“Art” is a word. Anyone is free to associate any definition to it they like.

If you want to know the definition that most people would agree on, then you need to consult the most authoritative source on the planet. That may be Encyclopædia Britannica. Here's is what it says:

“also called visual art

A visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination. The term art encompasses diverse media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, decorative arts, photography, and installation.”

Wikipedia, on the other hand, defines it thusly:

“Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture, and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.”

Timo Lehtinen said...

If you recall, I claim ... I think the argument hinges ...

The problem with this proposition (claiming, arguing) is that it assumes there is an objective definition for art somewhere.

How could such a definition possibly have come to being?Something that can be derived through mathematics? Or from natural phenomena (biology, astronomy)?

A definition communicated by God, perhaps? (Maybe there is something in the Bible or Quran, I haven't checked.)

Maybe LaVey gives us a hint in the Satanic Bible. ;-)

How about Scientology? Did LRH mention anything when you were part of that?

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yeah, he said that it's when a communication achieves a participation from the receiver, when he injects his own ideas or feelings into the whole of his experience of the artwork. I think there's some merit to that.

"Anyone is free to associate any definition to it they like."

Yeah, I hate that. Everybody should just listen to ME, ME, ME, ME, MEEEEEEEE!

Anonymous said...

"Anyone is free to associate any definition to it they like." Ah, the Humpty Dumpty scool of word meanings. Like my brother, who claims to be a piss artist? Before we give the blog pontificators, wannabe philosophers, self proclaimed artists, and pale but earnest aesthetes their turn, how about asking an etymologist?

Jean Pierre said...

I have never forgotten an interview with Andrei Tarkovsky, a movie director. I a paraphrasing a bit here:

"Before defining art one has to answer a much broader question: "What is the meaning of man's life on earth?

Maybe we are here to enhance ourself spiritually? If our life moves to this spiritual enrichment then art is a means to get there. This is also my definition of life. Art should help man in this process.

Some say that art helps man to know the world like any other intellectual activity. I don't believe in this possibility of knowing. Knowledge distracts us from our main purpose in life. The more we know, the less we know: getting deeper our horizon becomes narrower.

Art enriches man's own spiritual capabilities and he can then rise above himself to use what we call "free will"."

TC [Girl] said...

Eolake said...
"Everybody should just listen to ME, ME, ME, ME, MEEEEEEEE!"


dave nielsen said...

I guess I would agree with Eolake that anything can be art. It's not even really the intention of the artist, as something tossed off and regarded as junk by the "artist" could be seen as art by somebody else. Partly it's consensus - I mean, Stephen King's books sell amazingly well but he's still considered a hack, a writer of mere bestsellers, by many people. An artist like Jack Kirby is regarded by the "art community" (which seems to mean a bunch of writers based in New York) as a mere illustrator, lower even than someone like Norman Rockwell. Bouguereau's paintings are called empty, still, lifeless. Then there are those whose work is well regarded by critics but eventually goes out of fashion. I can't think of any names right now, but I can recall reading an article years ago about writers from past decades and centuries who were considered great but who are now unknown.

Joe said...

Art can be anything.

The interpretation is as different as each person.

We all know what *speaks* to us. What it says to one may not be the same as to another.

You just have to separate out the good from the bad.

Anonymous said...

Well actually Joe there's no such thing as bad art; the good stuff is what we call art.