Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What Is Acceptable Art: A Question Every Artist Should Ask.

What is acceptable art? This has been a question asked by every art observer since the time art was first appreciated for aesthetic value. Through the centuries certain artists and their styles have been embraced or rejected by their peers. We will all face this at some point in our art career.

More often than not, an artist who is rejected by his or her generation (Vincent Van Gogh, Egon Schiele, George Grosz) will be widely accepted by a future generation. Think about the controversial artists of our time. Will they be widely accepted tomorrow? Should we, as artists, accept them today?

It seems that many artists are just as guilty as the public in regards to judging the value of certain artists who work in a radical manner. It is an 'at least the finger is pointed at them' mentality' which, in my opinion, has an end result of hurting every artist.

The truth of the matter is that many artists are held back if the general public is adamantly against their work. Their peers, within the context of the art world, rarely show them support out of fear of being 'fingered'. When will we unite to support those who have been thrown out on the edge? When will we start to point back?

It often seems that the controversial artist walks alone as if he or she has the plague. Should we give them support when this breed of censorship occurs? How safe are we in the future if a few are allowed to be persecuted for their art today. As for myself, I would rather not play Russian roulette as to what art is acceptable and what art is not. I know that a hundred years ago my work would have been seen in a negative light by most of the public. Thus, I will be tolerant of all art today.

Remember that at one time Picasso was seen as a disgrace to the popular concept of art, George Grosz was observed as being a 'butcher' rather than a painter, and Vincent Van Gogh was only accepted by a select few within his inner circle. Now these artists are famous the world over. Let us not allow artists of our time to be denied their chance at success due to our own perception of what art should be. After all, the next artist that is held back may be you.

My opinion is that making rash decisions about what is acceptable in the art world is like stomping on the lungs of creation. The advancement of art, no matter how refined or brutal, should be allowed to breathe. Anything less than this will lead to the suffocation of expression as a whole. Think about this the next time you write a fellow artist off as a hack or perverted lunatic.

What is acceptable art?... All art?... Good and bad? Does the process alone give value to the worth of the work? Does the dedication of the artist make the art acceptable no matter what the subject matter or materials used? Would Picasso's "Guernica" not have the same message and fame had he mixed blood in his paints? Would LĂ©onard de Vinci's "Mona Lisa" be so respected had he used traces of feces? Would Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" been so infamous had he used dye? Think about this and feel free to respond.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin.


Anonymous said...

This topic is huge, and frankly I'm not of the right philosophical mindset right now to dig into it deeply. However, I can offer a little something.

To ask "what is acceptible art," you first have to ask "what is art?" Is it art because the person who created it says it is? Is it art because it evokes a response? And if so, which responses constitute art and which don't? If something evokes repulsion, is it art? Or is it art only if the creator WANTED it to evoke repulsion? I could vomit in a bucket and put a spotlight on it, because I wanted to repulse people. Is that art? If so, is it acceptible? And does it matter?

We debated this topic for a long time in one of my classes and came to no conclusions. There was a contradiction to every theory. There was no "unified theory of art." If someone could come up with one, we'd be well on our way to understanding more about what is "acceptible," and what, if anything, isn't.

Anonymous said...

Uh.. No. Pandering to anyone who spews out a piece of crap just so that they feel accepted is ludicrous. If someone tries to create something for sheer shock value, is it art? No, of course not. It is just someone trying to make a buck by being controversial. Do we have to support that? No, we don't.

These days everyone shouts "I'm an artist!! I'm an artist!! Don't judge me because I paint like a 4 year old! I'm an artist and it's my style!" This notion that everything is art and should not be judged is quite simply batshit insane. For something to be truly artistic it must possess at least a moderate degree of talent within it. However we have lost the word artistic to include any endeavor no matter how terrible into the equation. If my 6 year old Godson can reproduce it or a monkey flinging stuff can achieve the same results as the work you present then it is not art.

***More often than not, an artist who is rejected by his or her generation (Vincent Van Gogh, Egon Schiele, George Grosz) will be widely accepted by a future generation.***

What kind of drugs are you on and can I have some? Please tell me the names of the tens of thousands of other artists throughout history whose questionable artistic endeavors are now appreciated? You did say that after all it is more often than not an artist will be accepted by future generations, correct? You can't can you because your premise is untrue. There are only a limited number of artists that fit the bill you are talking about and all of them while their styles may have been somewhat different in their day, they at least display a degree of talent, composition, ability, etc. etc. in their works. The majority fall by the wayside and rightly so.

As for whether or not someone appreciates your work 100 years from now is irrelevent because you will be dead. If you need the ego stroking now then it is a matter of choice on your part what you produce. If you don't care about your ego and want to be radical then fine, so be it. Just don't come whining that you are not appreciated for your feces and tampon scultures.

It is this blind acceptance that calls everything art that does in fact skew and warp perception of what good art actually is and the actual artists that produce them. Just because you CAN slap paint onto a canvas does not make you an artist, nor does it mean I have to respect your work. Take for example the painting that fetched one million dollars. It was nothing but a giant canvas painted a solid red. This is not art. If it is then give me a million dollars for my latest piece which I will now display below. It is entitled "A Polar Bear In An Artic Snowstorm"
That there is some fantastic art! Now pay up! RESPECT ME!!!

You see how stupid this is? It all comes down to freedom of choice. If you are into lame, no talent crap then more power to you to support it. I, on the other hand, choose to support people with actual talent. I may not always agree with the subject matter or it may not be to my taste, however I can tell what takes talent and what doesn't and my art appreciation goes to the people with real artistic talent.

That is the difference between freedom of choice and blind acceptance.

- lethalll42

Balhatain said...

I was thinking more of the style of the artists when I said more often than not they will be accepted by future generations.

The people I listed paved the way... so to speak. There were many artists in their individual circle of influence who reached some degree of fame. (Also, there may be a million anime artists today, but that does not mean there were a million expressionist painters back then. Access to materials, media, and understanding of the arts has changed many things.)

The artists who moved within the same circles as Van Gogh, and other artists who were at one point persecuted for their work, gained some degree of fame later. If anything, the style they worked in was accepted (Even if their individual work was forgotten.) It all depends on how you define famous.

Fame can be regional, national, or global. Take your pick. Try to put the popular image of 'being famous' aside. International fame is not the only type of fame on the block.

Also, you don't have to be famous to have helped shape who or what becomes 'famous'. There are a lot of collectors, dealers, and artists who have became footnotes in art history. For example, we all have knowledge of Andy Warhol, but do we know each and every artist that worked in the Factory? Or helped to influence it?

Back to this idea of acceptance in the art world. I think we, as artists, should accept everyone who works to create art. If you think an artist is under-skilled, point it out to him or her in a tactful manner. Make suggestions as to how he or she can improve. Challenge yourself while helping them to become better at what they do.

We should support our art communities, not pick and choose who is accepted as 'legit'. This does not mean we have to like or respect what they do nor does it mean that every artist should be paid a million dollars per painting (I try to respect everyone.). It just means that we should be tolerant of the fact that a person takes the time and financial sacrifice to experiment with their ideas. Those ideas should be protected and allowed to expand. Artists should be allowed to grow.

One must really question his or her own prowess and purpose as an artist if he or she is overly concerned with untalented artists making millions while he or she slaves away on the next piece.

Is art made for profit or for enlightenment? Can it be a mixture of both and still remain 'true'?


Anonymous said...

Actually, Institutions, museums, critics and arts writers are all falling all over themselves to climb on the latest, most outrageous thing- It's the traditional painters who are not valued or lauded in our society.
Who the heck are we to even attempt a definition of "acceptable" art obviously, anything goes.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't the question be if the art simply 'works' ?

Whether somthing is acceptable or non-acceptable will always vary with the culture and society in which it is presented, so perhaps the question the artist should ask is "will it accomplish what I want it to within that venue?"

All the elements in the work need to work together, including the PR factor of specific materials.

Delving into underlying truths is what the artist does. As Orwell observed in Animal Farm, some are more 'equal' than others.
Picasso sheds some revealing light on the matter also when he phrased "Art is a lie that helps us to understand truth."

The work of Thomas Kincaid ("Painter of Light") obviously must resonate with a lot of the culture (not necessarily 'trained' artists!) to be as successful as it is, but one ('trained artist')must ask what truth does his work reveal . . . and is that truth any more real or more false than Serrano's Piss Christ? [and what makes you sure he didn't use dye and just say it was piss? Would the photograph be any less real? Would that make his statement less compelling?]

Where does the truth reside - in each and every one of our 'hearts' whether we are the artist or the viewer. As an artist I feel I must create what the work demands of me. Whether is is acceptable or not is not part of the creation, but rather part of the presentation. Presentation is drama or theater which can certainly enhance the artistic statement, but I (as sculptor) must first have good 'character' and 'story' before I set the stage and adjust the lights . . .

Balhatain said...

HOwever, is this attention the fault of the artist? What if the artist chose to use these materials purely for the spirit of creative exploration.

Is it his fault if the public values his work because of the materials used more so than they value a work with the same content done in acrylic?

I think sometimes the publics attention for art can be compared to what they enjoy reading in the newspaper. Reporters rarely make a living writing articles about positive/good things.

People complain about what they read in the paper, yet they continue to buy them. Just like people continue to observe these images even though they speak about them in a negative view.

Public interest can be rather dark. Perhaps it is human nature to be attracted to such things.

Balhatain said...

"These days everyone shouts "I'm an artist!! I'm an artist!! Don't judge me because I paint like a 4 year old! I'm an artist and it's my style!" This notion that everything is art and should not be judged is quite simply batshit insane. For something to be truly artistic it must possess at least a moderate degree of talent within it."

Based on the defintion of 'artist' it would seem that anyone can be an artist. By defintion, the very people you question are artists since they are obviously, based on your views, tricking someone. I would say that selling a 'crap' work of art for a million is the greatest trick of all. :P

"art‧ist –noun

1. a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.

2. a person who practices one of the fine arts, esp. a painter or sculptor.

3. a person whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of design, drawing, painting, etc.: a commercial artist.

4. a person who works in one of the performing arts, as an actor, musician, or singer; a public performer: a mime artist; an artist of the dance.

5. a person whose work exhibits exceptional skill.

6. a person who is expert at trickery or deceit: He's an artist with cards.

7. Obsolete. an artisan.

[Origin: 1575–85; < MF artiste < ML artista master of arts. See art1, -ist]

—Synonyms 1. Artist, artisan are persons having superior skill or ability, or who are capable of producing superior work. An artist is a person engaged in some type of fine art. An artisan is engaged in a craft or applied art.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006."

"American Heritage Dictionary -

One, such as a painter, sculptor, or writer, who is able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value, especially in the fine arts.

A person whose work shows exceptional creative ability or skill: You are an artist in the kitchen.

One, such as an actor or singer, who works in the performing arts.

One who is adept at an activity, especially one involving trickery or deceit: a con artist."

So... I guess the real question is "How do you judge what is not superior. Everyone has a different opinion as to what is a 'master work'. Rembrant is considered a Master artist, but not everyone likes his work.

Someone can have talent, but lack skills. Another person may have a gifted thought process, but lack talent. It is all in the eye of the beholder to discern what the artist is lacking. However, for everyone who says, "That is not art!" there could be a dozen others who say, "That is a master piece."

Yes, there is a lot of 'crap' or ugly work out there, but a lot of ancient art is just as 'bad'... yet we consider it art. Will someone discover a 'crappy' painting that was completed today several thousand years from now and proclaim that it is art? Eye of the beholder.

Does majority rule decide what is art and what is not? Or is it left to the individual to decide? Why is it so hard to accept someone as a fellow artist when the very defintion reveals that anyone can be?

Anyone can be an artist, but there may be levels as to what kind of artist the person is. Is he or she a master? A pro? Maybe, he or she is a horrible artist? Still... it is all in the eye of the beholder.

I'm so glad that these posts allow me to reflect on my own views.

Balhatain said...


You don't have to like or support any art that is created, but can't you support the creative ambition of most artists no matter what they are doing? Can you try to respect their passion for expressing themselves even though you do not respect their work?

My biggest concern is that at some point the rights of artists who work in certain styles will be taken away. Other artists, out of fear of being censored as well, will simply allow it to occur. That leaves me to ask, if it did happen, "Who is next?".

I worry that traditional elitism will be reborn at some point if we allow it to happen by not supporting each other (As in, supporting our right to create as we see fit.). True, there is a modern elitism as well, but it is in no was as exclusive as the academic tradition once was.

I believe it would be very hard for artists to experiment as they see fit if traditional art became the gold standard once more. I have thoughts as to how this could occur. For now I will say that it would involve politics.

That is why we need to have a strong 'art community'. I don't mean to suggest that we should all sit around smoking cigarettes while pampering each others egos. I simply suggest that we support the creative ambition of every artist we come in contact with.

Support what they do. That does not mean you have to support the message of their work or even respect them. Just support the spirit of their work. The fact that they attempt to do something with the materials they have at hand.

(I had to repost this. I forgot to address you. :P )

Anonymous said...

el arte comienza desde la admiracion hasta llegar al repudio total,, algo debe ocurrir en quien observa,
si responde todas nuestras preguntas y es lo que vemos no es arte

Balhatain said...

I will try to translate the anonymous post above. If anyone can translate better... please do.

"The art begins with admiration from others and arrives to total reputation when we observe something happen with it, if it does not respond to all of our questions and nothing is seen it is not art."

I could have this all wrong. I tried. ;p