Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Danger of Defining Art

(The text in the above image reads: This Is Not Art. I suggest that it is art... though it may not be a good example of art.)

First, I want to say that the definition of art that I'm discussing is not the definition of art that can be found in a dictionary. As we all know, the dictionary does not always give the best definition of a word and its meaning. Find an older dictionary and read the definitions of certain aspects of society and you will know what I'm talking about.

The dictionary is not a Bible of Language, so to speak. It can be just as flawed as any other text. I'm discussing the definition of art that we use when discussing the validity of certain forms of art in contemporary society. A definition that is often backed by artspeak and enforced by art from the past. This definition tends to exclude certain details- such as the fact that a lot of the art that is accepted today was often not accepted in the past.

With the above text in mind- I keep going back to this issue of defining art. This is important an important issue. It is my opinion that a solid definition of art is restrictive in that it instills a degree of fear as far as artistic exploration and growth is concerned. Art is supposed to be free, free from what I'm not exactly sure, but it is often referred to as free and I think that is the best definition- Art = free.

My view is that art should suggest that people are free to explore surfaces and materials with their work, free to manipulate, free to ponder... free to create in a manner that is desired by the individual- and those desires should be accepted as art upon their creation. This freedom is attacked when only certain forms of expression- certain forms or styles- are accepted as art. That form of intolerance tends to lock artists in a bubble of security. It is a dangerous view and will only serve to hold people back.

The view that only certain forms of art can be accepted as art is amusing when you consider that the majority of people creating today work in a manner that was not accepted 100 years ago. Thus, to deny a contemporary artist- to say that his art is not art- is to reveal a lack of knowledge in regards to art history and the struggle of those who came before. It suggests that certain living artists utilize a selective history of art in order to back what they do... while degrading the works of others.

So many contemporary artists seem to have a set definition of what art is and what art can be. This is often based on selective aspects of recent art history (recent meaning one to two hundred years ago). This view shelters the artist in the security (the bubble) that others before him or her have established through their own struggle for acceptance in the past.
Contemporary artists who use this charge often do not consider the struggle that those past artists had for acceptance. They just take the face-value of the fact that it is now accepted- so their art should be accepted as well. Thus, some contemporary artists deny that their form of art was once questioned- yet they question the creations of others openly. This either reveals ignorance or cowardly behavior... and I will never tolerate it.

Those hard fought struggles over 'can this be art?" from the past are now an accepted norm. The majority of people living today will not question if Van Gogh's paintings are art nor will they question the validity of Monet's art. However, both artists were questioned in their time. So many of us seem to forget that when we tell another artist that his or her art is not art.

People embrace the art of the past because it is easy to embrace something that has already been established. It is easy to be selective in what you choose from art history in order to back your own work. This does not leave room for growth, especially when so many people deny artists who go beyond the norm of what has already been deemed acceptable.

Thus, to define art on the norm- the already accepted - the selective history- is to halt the growth of the individual artist and the future of art as a whole. That is why I say that art should simply be defined as visual freedom. We should accept all art as art... this does not mean that all art is good- some art is obviously bad. However, the bad art is still art and should be accepted.
To define art- to decide what is and what is not art- in any other way is to foster an environment that leads only to stagnation- both cultural and visual. The end result of this often has the same result. There will eventually be a huge shift in opinions about what art can be. It is at that time that art that is not considered art now will be stamped with approval by future generation. I say... why wait? Why can't we accept all art now so that art continues to advance in our generation? Do we want to be remembered as another generation that oppressed the vision of others?

We do not need to define art by the norms of expressivity- art should be open... free. We need to have a definition that goes beyond the sheltered box of specific rules, social grace, and the already accepted. To do otherwise is to reveal a fear of change, of exploration, and a clear denial of those who struggled before us so that the majority of art we create today is acceptable.

How can a contemporary artist claim that another contemporary artist is not creating art? This is a charge that has long puzzled me. Especially since the majority of artists living today create art that would have been judged harshly 100 years ago. How can Artist A say that Artist B is not creating art when most likely Artist A's form of expression, the mediums used, and form were once degraded in the same manner? To me that is like standing on the bones of the artists who came before- stomping on everything that they had fought for.

How easy it is to say that your own art is art when those who came before were the ones who had to endure the suffering of hard criticism. In that respect, some contemporary artists become like the 'spoiled child' in that they accept the claim of 'this is art' that they have been 'born' into, but deny the roots of those creative endeavors. They deny the wealth of knowledge and experience that past artists had when they shaped the principles that contemporary artists now embrace in order to define their own art as art. They are not aware of their roots.

In that respect, a contemporary artist who questions the art of others also questions the validity of his or her own art based on the history of art in general. He or she accepts the attitude that certain art is not art. In that darkness, he or she unknowingly accepts that the art of the recent past is not art- which in turn means the art that he or she creates is not art.
In other words, a hard definition of what art can be only leads to people back-tracking. These artists degrade their own work by questioning the validity of the work of others. Is it so hard to judge art as good or bad? Why must some artists boldy state that certain art is not art? I think it is time for us to go beyond this. We should step forward instead of stepping back.

Again, it is my opinion that defining art on set terms only serves to halt the growth of individual artists and the artworld as a whole. The more perfectly it is defined, the less active artists become and the less likely that new forms of expression will be accepted as art.Thus, for art to have an impact and to allow exploration and growth- it must never have a definition that is set in stone. Defining art is dangerous. For good or bad... art should be free to define itself.

(Side Note: It is clear that my view is that all art should be accepted as art... good or bad... it is art. To think otherwise is to accept that groups like the Art Renewal Center (ARC) are correct. In their opinion hardly anything is art unless it is a traditional oil painting that embraces classical themes.

ARC supporters have stated that 99% of the art created today is not art at all. The 1% that is art is only art because it holds to the academic traditional of classical realism and refuses any suggestion of surreal influence. Thus, if you deny that certain forms of contemporary art is art you are unknowingly upholding their views. That is dangerous. That is why it is important to accept all art... that does not mean you have to say that all art is good.

A few months ago I contacted Brian Yoder from ARC for an interview. He accepted, read my questions, and gave several excuses for why he had not yet answered my questions. He has not responded from that point on. That is why I feel that people like Mr. Yoder are dangerous to the artworld and to the acceptance of all art in general. You can learn more about ARC by visiting their site:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Jeffrey Kretchmer said...

I totally agree with you! Art should = free and it's a shame that not everyone feels that way. Art should not be constricted by anything, even if it be something that others dislike or disagree with.

Jeffrey Kretchmer said...

I totally agree with you! Art should = free and it's a shame that not everyone feels that way. Art should not be constricted by anything, even if it be something that others dislike or disagree with.

Anonymous said...

It seems you search for a personal, not dictionary or universal, definition of art. This is fine, but the concept demands that other people be allowed to define art in their terms every bit as much as you are allowed to define it in yours. I'm not sure you're respecting this, at least as far as Mr. Yoder is concerned...

I'm also a bit unclear as to the "danger" involved. Danger implies risk, and doesn't seem to apply to rhetorical and conceptual arguements over terminology. It seems all we really risk is changing our minds later as to what art is or can be. Should a piece of art or a thought about art do that, I wouldn't call it a "danger". I'd call it a "success".

Redreamer said...

When discussing how to define art is the very act of DEFINING not limiting?

A good friend puts it this way....

ART THOU......

it is enough.

Interesting read... challenging the current paradigms is what artists do well. Moreover it is important that ANY looking backwards is challenged... to me it is about pushing any percieved or real boundaries ... moving them further to give the creator ROOM to create. Definitions and exclusivity create edges and boundaries that of course limit.

Balhatain said...


I don't agree with Brian Yoder or any of the ARC members. I'm open about that... which is why I contacted him about an interview in order to debate with him about art in our times. He accepted and then backed out.

ARC is dangerous in that it is funded by several very wealthy individuals. Money is power and power is influence. These guys feel that only the art they support deserves to be in museums and art galleries. They are the perfect example of what can happen when people start to define art strictly.

My opinion is that all art should be accepted as art. That does not mean that all art is good. I'm just saying that all art should be accepted as art. I think it is a step back when we waste time discussing if a work of art is art or not.

Instead of trying to dictate what is art and what is not, why not give the artist feedback that will perhaps help him or her to better said art? I think that makes more since than telling an artist that his painting or sculpture is not art.

I just don't see how any artist can tell another artist that his or her art is not art.... especially when you consider that the majority of art created by painters and sculptors today may have not been considered art a century or two ago. Yet these same people will downgrade the works of others? It makes not sense to me.

I guess you could say that I seek universal acceptance of art. Again, that does not mean that all art is good. Art can also be bad. Keep in mind that some artists want their work to be bad. :P

Anonymous said...

I believe art is in the idea, in the thought, the product of the concept is the physical piece temporary or other wise. ie video, installation, or traditional materials. This is the "freedom" of art, the freedom of expression. To say that something is "good or bad" art is more of a critique on the skill of the artists to bring the "art" to fruition. To restrict an artists exploration to certain materials or disciplines is a murder of the soul.


Dianne Bowen

Anonymous said...

Art - this never be defined generally.
Art of War
Art of Cooking
Art of everything.

Fine art is different. Definition is very clear.

Americans with their "education kills creativity" seriously damaged art world.


Lacey said...

I do not agree with you, though I am not 100% with the ARC either. When speaking purely philosophically, what you say sounds really nice. I mean, how can we tell someone what they may and may not do? Isn't that restriction of freedom? How can we scoff at someone who worked so hard on their creation and say it isn't art? That isn't very nice.

I am not, however looking at this from a philosophical point of view. I am looking at it from a professional point of view. If you say that anything and everything is art, including my feces and refuse, then nothing is art. The word art no longer has any meaning, and the word artist no longer has any meaning. It's no wonder there is such a disconnect between the art world and the general public; much of art has simply become a joke or exists purely to explore 'how far can I push this idea that everything is art?' How many times have you said "I'm an artist," and received the response, "Oh, I don't know anything about that!"

From my point of view, there are dangers in not giving *any* definition to art. The dangers are that university education in the craft of fine arts has deteriorated (luckily we still have illustration and design!), public involvement in fine visual arts has diminished, and the image of artists has gone from being intellectually gifted and skilled craftsmen to socially inept and misunderstood wackos.

Please apply this 'everything' theory to other art forms. Do we consider a recording of drips from the sink faucet or cars driving by alone to be music, and the recorder a professional musician? Or do we simply call it white noise? Is this restricting our freedom to make and attempt to market such recordings? Is our definition of music dangerous?

I do not think that we need to go back to the days where style, medium, and subject are restricted, nor that we need to stop accepting abstract work or installations, etc., but I would like some amount of professionalism to be returned to my profession. Should we really call the contents of a garbage can randomly strewn across a gallery floor professional fine art? Sure we *can,* but that doesn't mean we ought to.

Redreamer said...

Anonymous Alexander i am not sure i understand your point..Fine art definition is clear....would you care to elucidate? You have not said HOW you would define art...

surely no one political/geographic location/boundary i.e. 'America' is promugulating the perception that education kills creativity....

I think most American Artists and i am NOT one btw... acknowledge education can come from many sources..... i am thinking you are referring to 'formal education'?

Perception is all it seems.

Language and knowledge is power....
so definining art too narrowly or defining it AT ALL implies INCLUSION and therefore EXCLUSION.

Balhatain said...

I can relate to several of the views here. However, I will stick to my opinion that art is art. If the creator says that it is art... it is art. We should only question, in simple terms, if it is good or bad. Define art on those terms, but do not strip someone of their right to call their creations, work, whatever you wish to call it- art.

Just because it is art does not mean that it deserves to be in a museum... it does not mean that it should be included in a major gallery. However, with that said... it still deserves to be called as the artist observes it. So if he or she says that it is art- it is. If anyone says that it is art- it is.

It seems that a lot of artists fear the art of others. If you are a 'good' artist, for lack of a better term, why fear a 'bad' artist. Why say that his or her art is not art just because it is not as 'good' as you think it should be. Is that not a form of fear?

I'm not suggesting that all art should have the same merit- I'm simply suggesting that all art is art and it is very restrictive to say otherwise.

I guess my point is this... the definition of fine art, if you want to put it that way, is way different now than it was just 200 years ago. Art that was not accepted then is in museums today.
Thus, I fail to see how any artist living today can tell another artist that his or her art is not art knowing (or they should know if they have studied art) that artists who have probably influenced them at one point or the other once had the validity of their work questioned.

Many artists from the last 100 years alone were told, "Your art is not art"... yet that same art has helped to shape the current artworld. Future generations embraced it. Why can't we be a generation that gives all art a chance in the 'here and now'?

I simply think we should get past the 'your art is not art' mentality and have a form of universal acceptance of art. We should work to help each other develop through constructive critiques instead of outright saying, 'your art is not art'.

Art is no longer strictly about technique. Thus, you can't judge all art by traditional art standards. In regards to ARC- why define the art of today with traditions and principles of the past? Isn't art supposed to grow... to expand... to question our perceptions?

You also have to ponder the thoughts behind the work today. Why does an artist who can draw in a realistic manner decide to draw 150 stickmen figures? Is his art no longer art because he is focusing on the basics? Why does a great sculptor decide to use frozen blood in his work? Is his art no longer art because he utlized blood within the context of his work?

I try my best to think in the 'now' and I think it is about time that everyone catches up. Again, that is my opinion and I respect every opinion posted on here. So keep it up! :P

Anonymous said...

I was just watching "the power of art" on pbs about "rembrandt", which addressed this issue. It's a great show, I can only summerize the story but basicly it went like this....

He began to fall out of favour with the elite due to his depiction of a powerful figure. The person refused to pay for the work becuase he was offended by the representation and basicly bad mouthed him within the upper crust which sent his career spiriling into bankruptsy. No one would touch his work as he began to experiment breaking the "rules of the day" concerning light, representation, form, realism... By a stroke of mercy he was commissioned to do a piece towards the end of his life for the Dutch ministry. They thought they were safe, he's been so broke he'll behave and do the task. This was not the case, he was asked to paint a portrait of one of the dutch heros in the "traditonal representational style" but to their aghast he painted with brutal strokes, the hands seemed unfinished, the heros seemed more like a band of pirates, the light blazed out from the work like a beacon to greed illuminating the now barbaric figures. the piece was to be in a prominent space, horrified they removed it. Rembrandt could not understand why, how could they not understand the truth in his depiction, so disturbed by the reaction he cut up the painting and tried to sell it in parts which no one would buy. One piece exists of the original and is now in a museum.

Anonymous said...

Balhatain said...

"ARC is dangerous in that it is funded by several very wealthy individuals. Money is power and power is influence. These guys feel that only the art they support deserves to be in museums and art galleries. They are the perfect example of what can happen when people start to define art strictly.

My opinion is that all art should be accepted as art. That does not mean that all art is good. I'm just saying that all art should be accepted as art. I think it is a step back when we waste time discussing if a work of art is art or not."

Plucking these two points for discussion...

Regarding ARC, yes, they have the money to influence certain venues; that's what money does, and as it's their money, it's their choice of how to influence. That's how the world works. We should only be glad that they choose to support the arts, even if only from a strictly limited viewpoint. Most money is spent in far worse ways...

Money always influences venues for the arts. Most galleries want to know an artist's sales history before offering a show. Museums want a pedigree of degrees and which museums and private collections have purchased work.

Is it fair? Not to the "would-be-professional" artist who hasn't sold anything. But then, if the artist is more interested in creating art than selling art, it's not that large an issue...

As to the opinion, "all art should be accepted as art", there again arises the problem of defining art. Is it art simply by the creator or one viewer calling it art? Is any noise music if someone calls it music?

I am free to define and judge art as I see it, as are you, and as is Yoder. Since Duchamp put that infamous urinal in an art salon, the boundaries of art have been quite unclear.

Perhaps rather than defining what is art, could you define what is not art?

Balhatain said...

Owen, (This is a quick reply, I have to get back to work on some interviews.)

I'm glad that you have strong views. It is OK for Yoder and the rest of ARC to have their opinion as well. However, their motives are very negative and go beyond a simple viewpoint of what they feel art should be. Read some of their forums and you will know what I'm talking about.

In their eyes you are not an artist. Your work should not be exhibited nor should it be funded by grants. Chances are that no one who has posted here is an artist in their eyes.

ARC supporters have went as far as to say that art that is not done in the tradition of classical realism should be pulled from ALL galleries and should not obtain government funding for exhibitions.

They have also said that artists who work in a manner that does not follow the classical realism tradition that they approve should not be able to obtain grants for their work.

Their supporters have also said that some form of council should dictate what is acceptable for museums, art galleries, and for other exhibit spaces. So I read that as an attack on art in general and if you don't... well... what can I say.

This is dangerous since they claim to have over 200,000 supporters. 200,000 people who think that what you do should not be exhibited, purchased, or funded... and support legal changes that would dictate what can be viewed in exhibition facilities.

I realize that 200,000 people are not really that many in the 'big picture', but we have seen how a minority can change the world... just observe global politics and you will see that. Thus, I see ARC as a threat to contemporary art.

"Perhaps rather than defining what is art, could you define what is not art?"

Like I've said... I define art as a form of freedom. Freedom to explore materials, to project thoughts on surfaces, to do what you desire with these materials in order to express yourself. Any action involving this is art. Now that does not mean that all art is good. I've stressed that.

Basically, I feel that art can't be defined. To do so is to create a restrictive environment that only serves to degrade the creative ambitions of certain people while forming a false sense of security around others and their art.

Thus, if it is to be defined it must be defined as 'free'.... the intent to create something, anything that is backed by the freedom to utilize your individual thoughts to create. The freedom to use any and all materials- be it oil paint or even feces. If the intention is there and the freedom of choice is expressed... it is art.

Now for some examples: I don't think mowing a yard in a certain manner is good art (at least not in my eyes), but there may be others who would like to see it on a print or placed in an exhibition space. I would still consider it art based on the thoughts that went behind it... the fact that the person went through some struggle of thought to create the patterns. The intention was there.

I'm not saying that everything in the world is art (though I'm sure there are people who may debate that). For example, If I trip over a bucket of paint and the paint splashes all over the floor... it is not art- unless I intended on tripping over the bucket of paint.
In this scenario I did not intend on tripping over it... thus I did not intend to do it so the aftermath is not a creation of art.

In that sense, in order for something to be art it must have intention from the start- even if the intention of the artist is is to deny intention. I say this because his or her work is still art because he or she thought about denying said intention. He or she intended to include accidents as a form of expression while denying the intention to do so at the same time- thus... it is still art.

Finally, I wish for the boundaries of art to remain unclear. The more unclear the better. There should be no boundaries!

Anonymous said...

please no more.
this subject is corny and subject to subjectivness.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thread Brian and to be honest I have to agree with it, everyone is different and what is accepted now wouldn't have been in the past, plus as stated other peoples work wasn't accepted then. Dont know really myself I paint what I want, probably has a retro look to it but I can't help that, I just paint, never consider what is popular or contemporary really, just do it because I want to and make it up as I go along, never studied art and just like what I like, crap answer I know but an honest one (lol)

Anonymous said...

I've been reading the comments and I have to same something about the profession of being an artist. I don't think it is fair to say that an artist is not professional just because no work has been sold. There are mechanics who decided to do that as a profession but don't get jobs. Professions just like art can have good or bad practitioners. Anyone who spends countless hours in a studio are professional artists. It does not matter how much art they have sold. I think there are some art snobs a-foot. Jeesh.

Anonymous said...

Unless we simply like to continue debating a riddle that has no answer, why do we need to define ART? If you are a retailer, then you care about "art" that sells. If you are a consumer, then you should purchase "art" that you like - not what someone tells you that you should like. If you're an artist, then do whatever it is that pleases you. Who else really cares what art IS? We may scorn certain grants as being a great waste of money, but unless we are the winners/losers of same, why should we care? As for what we do today, future generations will either applaud our efforts or call them ridiculous! Since none of us will know, why do we continue to fret? That is what is ridiculous. Whatever true ART IS, we have permission to either love it, hate it, or ignore it. What else is relevant?

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I understood this. If art is everything then why we restrict art only to human production or interpretation.Is a tree peace of art? Is the Urinal peace of art before it got to a gallery, or after and who is then real creator Duchamp or the guy who produced this urinal. We do make distinction between a publisher and a writer right so why is this different in visual art.
There are many words without meaning and looks like art is one of those.

Anonymous said...

He is not saying everything is art. He is saying that everything created with the intent to be art is art and should be addressed as art. I agree with him on this. People once laughed at my wood carvings and said that they were not art. I now sell higher than most of the artists in my community.

Anonymous said...

I did not read him say anything about everything being art Shahin. He is saying that all art should be considered art if the artist intended it to be art and that art should be judged as good or bad art instead of art or not art. I agree with Brian on this and I'm also puzzled why others do not.

Brian also said that it is art even if the artist intended the painting, sculpture, or drawing to not be art suggesting that the intention to make art that is not art was still there at the conception of the work so it is still art, which I guess means that anti-art is still art. How hard is that to grasp?

Look he said,

"My view is that art should suggest that people are free to explore surfaces and materials with their work, free to manipulate, free to ponder... free to create in a manner that is desired by the individual- and those desires should be accepted as art upon their creation."

"Thus, to define art on the norm- the already accepted - the selective history- is to halt the growth of the individual artist and the future of art as a whole. That is why I say that art should simply be defined as visual freedom. We should accept all art as art... this does not mean that all art is good- some art is obviously bad. However, the bad art is still art and should be accepted."

Where did you get "everything is art" from this? He is talking about art so keep it in context.

When asked to give a definition of what art is not he replied by saying that art is not art if there is no intention behind it. A tree is not art because a tree does not have a brain so it was kind of stupid for you to use that as an example. The planter of the tree may have had the intention of watching the tree grow but most likely did not have the intention of doing it as a form of art. Based on what he said the planter could very well be an artist if he intended to plant the tree as a form of artistic expression. In that case his view is that people should accept the tree as art even if it is an example of bad art.

A hog can't be an artist because it knows nothing about art. It can't comprehend art so there is no intention to begin with. A hog can be trained to create art but that is the intention of the human not the hog so I guess samples of that would be art created by the human using the hog as living brush. That is probably bad art as well depending on who you ask.

You mentioned Duchamp. The Urinal is Duchamp's art because he decided to take it sign it and say that it is art. It is his art even if he intended it to not be viewed as art because the intention to use something to question art was still there.

I don't think there is anyone making urinals that intend for it to be a work of art. I work at a packing facility and I do not view the product of my work as art. If I did I would be sued for useing copyrighted material!

Anything created with free use of materials is art if it has the intent of artistic creation behind it. I think that is a good definition of art.

Anonymous said...

There are no rules for photography, only good photographs.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I like how it sounds but does it really mean anything.If one doesn't want to make art he can just go and drink coffee. When Rimbaud decide not to make art he traveled and worked as a clerk and never wrote anything else what we consider to be a poetry.

You say tree is kind of stupid to use as an example but if a planter says he is watching this tree grow with intention of "artistic creation" then a tree is art. So is my example still stupid because as you said if I decided to say it is art then it is art.

I don't want to pretend that I have an answer I don't and I am not really interested in one. If you read what I said in my post you will see

"There are many words without meaning and looks like art is one of those."

By the way I am sorry for my grammar mistakes English is not my first language.

Anonymous said...


Your English is actually good.

You said,

"I am not sure I understood this. If art is everything then why we restrict art only to human production or interpretation.Is a tree peace of art?"

Your original statement made it sound as if you were suggesting that a non-human being can create art, that a tree creates art simply by being a tree. With that notion a rock is art simply because it is a rock. The wind creates art simply by knocking things over. I can see why there was some confusion over this.

Then you said,

"You say tree is kind of stupid to use as an example but if a planter says he is watching this tree grow with intention of "artistic creation" then a tree is art. So is my example still stupid because as you said if I decided to say it is art then it is art."

Your original example suggested that a tree can create art and that the very fact that it grows is a expression of art. Trees do not think therefore they can't have the intention of becoming art or creating art.

If someone plants a tree with the intention of it being a form of art, so be it. I can pick up a rock and throw it and say that it is art because I had the intention of the action being a form of artistic expression but that does not mean that it is great art or that I expect it to be in a museum.

Your original statement did not say anything about you deciding that a tree is art. You suggested that a tree can decide that it is art by itself. Now if you planted the tree with the intention of it being art than yeah, it is art. But I would not care to view it.

Or do you mean that something is art just because someone points at something and says that it is art. Like if I pointed at a mountain and said that it is art? You can point at objects all day and say that they are art but I doubt you will get very far doing that. I agree that it is art if you say that it is art but I would see it as pretentious art. That is my view.

I think you are taking the authors opinions out of context. He never said that everything is art. He said that all art is art and that art can be good or bad but people should not say it is not art and that art should have a free, open definition.

Anonymous said...

"Or do you mean that something is art just because someone points at something and says that it is art. Like if I pointed at a mountain and said that it is art? You can point at objects all day and say that they are art but I doubt you will get very far doing that. I agree that it is art if you say that it is art but I would see it as pretentious art."

This is what I understood from this article. I am not saying it as my opinion and actually I disagree with this and can't see it as a defenition of art, but may be it is me being close minded.

"Anything created with free use of materials is art if it has the intent of artistic creation behind it. I think that is a good definition of art"

We don't know monks who painted Russian icons, authors of Muslim carpets and miniatures, African masks or those beautiful quilts I have seen in American museums. Can we call all this objects art, I believe so but I am not sure any of those authors in the past had any intention to create art. So we can't call it art then right.

Those people in many cases followed very strict rules of preparation and didn't experiment with materials very much( Russian monks were even obligated to fast before start an icon)according this definition as I understood it we should again conclude what they were doing has nothing to do with art.

It is why I say what in my opinion idea of defining art based on "artistic intention" and "free use of material" as much as I like it is very,very questionable. And probably idea of defining art, itself is very questionable. We either create rigid boundaries or we are losing any meaning.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting article that begs an answer to the age old question of what is art.

During the late 1950's and through the 1960's into the early 1970's many artists held the belief that art was not to be owned. Even some major artists of the day ceased to sign their work.

Maybe the best known reaction to "what is art?" Came from a young California artist by the name of Chris Burton when he had himself nailed in a crucifixion stance to a VW Bug and was driven down an alley. The idea was that he created a work of art that no one could ever own....almost. It seems that someone took photographs of the episode that later sold through the Gagosian Gallery for thousands of dollars.

During the 1960's and 1970's the quest to identify art rose to a fevered pitch resulting in paintings of soup cans, SOS boxes and the elevation of serigraphy to a high art process.

My personal belief is that we are surrounded by art... from the box of laundry soap one purchases in the grocery store to automobile designs to architecture to the computers we use.

Art is our first form of written communication. As children we draw before we write.

The term art, in my opinion transcends and defies definition at the same time.

Art predates any written language and in fact the earliest languages stem from pictographs.

To put a label or definition on the word "art" would limit the history of the human race.

Anonymous said...

I have been interested in art therapy for years, and to me art is a form of non-verbal communication and allows people to express their emotions in a safe way where-as there are not always words to express what they are feeling, or they don't always know what they are feeling and the creation of art speaks to you about what is in your subconscious mind. I don't believe that only realism is acceptable, but if someone has a gallery and only wants to represent realism, that is their right. I think part of the joy of art is pushing the boundaries, and so even the boundaries and prejudices give artists a challenge and sense of adventure and being willing to take risks for the sake of their art. To me personally it is about the process of creating, and not necessarily the finished product. Like that old saying goes, life is a journey not a destination.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely!! Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder - or of the creator, as the case may be. Any "new" form of art has always been questioned by traditionalists - Monet and VanGogh, as you mentioned. But today they are universally accepted as not just artists, but great ones.

Some art, as you said, is bad. Art should be what you feel it should be. Ultimately, it should be for the artist and not for the public. I, for one, find that the photographs I like the best are never the ones that most people admire. They just like the ones that make them go, "Ooh, look, a pretty picture of a pretty flower." And that's fine - if art is free, then to each his own. And I believe that art should be free!

Unknown said...

Art can't be defined. Simply because of the subjectivity placed on it. Attempts to define art just result in movements and not definitions. The problem with this, of course, is that without a definition than anything can be called "art" and then it comes down to judging what's good art vs bad art, which is just a whole other thing.

It's sorta like the mule with a spinnin' wheel. Damned if you know how he got it and damned if he knows how to use it.

Lacey said...

Brian, I am glad that you have at least said that not everything is art.

You talk about fear, and I must say I am not afraid of people who say everything is art or people who create art that isn't like mine. I have no problems with people doing what they like, and if they are able to show it, sell it, be accepted, then great, whatever!

It appears to me that you fear that when people start defining art, then pretty soon anything non-realism would be out. I see your concern, but honestly I think the chances of something so extreme happening is very slim. Like someone else said, I think the ARC is doing a wonderful thing by promoting and throwing money at really well done realism. This style of painting has in fact, and still is, been put down by many in the art world with the claim that it is not art because it has been done before, or that representational/realistic painting is outdated due to photography. The ARC will never be able to destroy other areas of the art world, but good on them for promoting the arts in the areas they feel are deserving! The more money going to artists, the better. (And BTW: I never have and likely never will see a dime from them.)

Back to accepting everything as art:

1) I have a problem with this (even when you go so far as to say the urinal was art... I say it was a commentary on art. The urinal itself was not art, it was a urinal. Though, I would say Duchamp was an artist, look at his other work!) If anything is art that an artist says is art, then what makes an artist? That's when you get into judging artists less by the quality of their work and more by their CV. I think that what makes you an artist is the fact that you create art... not you are an artist because you went to so and so university and studied with so and so, had shows at whatever galleries, are in however many private collections, etc.

2) Embracing this idea is bad for the art world, art, and artists. Imagine what would happen if we allowed everyone, even non-artists, to adopt this idea that they can decide what art is. Let's say I am a CEO of a large company, and I build a new world headquarters in a city that has a 2% for Art plan (meaning, I must spend 2% of the total building cost on art, to help support the arts community.) Well, I could then buy a new BMW instead of a sculpture for the lawn and call it art, functional art even! What? It's not art because it was not intended to be? Well my artist friend intended it to be art when he conceived the idea, and then he physically drove it from the dealership to the new headquarters, which was really an emotional experience for him.

What if we give our NEA grants to the Phelps family, they are absolutely performance artists, right? Look at the national attention they got, and how it's forced us, especially in KS, to question freedom of speech issues, etc etc!

It seems as artists, we want the freedom to do whatever we want and have it accepted as art. But would you accept it if it was the other way around, and all that public funding started going to whomever/whatever others deemed to be artists/art?

There are somethings, even if an artist calls it so or signs it or whatever, I will just simply never call art. I will call it what it is. I do not think that 'bad art is not art.' There is bad art, and there is good art, but before it can be either it needs actually to be art. Of course the line is a blurry one and I can't find a perfect definition to apply, but I am certain that a piece of plywood alone is not art; it's a piece of plywood.

Many of those 200,000 supporters you speak of think more along those lines too. Not all ARC supporters subscribe to everything the ARC says. In fact, I bet most are more like me and accept a variety of art forms, but are sick of some aspects of the modern art theories and/or are interested in the return of realism and want to see it supported.

Also, I don't think the ARC wants government grants, etc, to stop going to certain artists, rather I think they want these grants to stop all together. The idea then is that which artists are successful will be dominated by the market and what the public wants, as opposed to what a few art experts decide is important.

As a side note: Of course I am familiar with art history, and I'm so tired of the claim that if someone thinks this way, well then they must be unfamiliar with art history and how strict the Academy was and what a struggle was had by the Impressionists, not to mention what happened to artists like Klimt due to the Nazis and their preference for traditional realism. I am aware of all of this, but what you seem to not want to recognize is that this struggle is not new; look at Velazquez and how he struggled to have his art accepted as an intellectual pursuit, as opposed to manual labor, for example. This was a huge turning point for art and artists!

I've definitely posted enough on this subject now, and it's a subject that will always start arguments among artists. Time (at least for me) to shut up and paint.

Unknown said...

Art CAN be defined, it's just not a simple thing to do. Forming that kind of definition would require much more than 'I think that...' and 'I'd say that...'

Subjectivity? Yes, we all have our own points of view, but there are also some clearly defined standards developed by people who spent their lives researching the topic so other people could use them as reference points.

I wish, oh how I wish people would stop mentioning the Urinal in this context... Yes, it is art. Please, when in doubt, read the books. It's all in the books.

Let's follow a simple line:

Art is about talent. It's very important. It tells you're qualified. Works made by talented people make the audience go 'Oooh' and 'Aaaah'.

But not every talented individual is equally treated. Why?

Creativity. Ability to make new things. To draw fresh connections. The most creative individuals get the most attention, and are more appreciated then those less creative. They are called major artists.

But the talented ones, who are highly creative and are very, very intelligent, they are called geniuses. Why? Because they bring major change.
They change the course of art.

But you see, it doesn't stop there. Art just doesn't stop with Picasso.

The next individual to dramatically change the course of art is Duchamp. With the Urinal.
He changed art. It is still art. He redefined it. That's why he's so important. Read about it. It's real good.

Ditto for the tree.

Art changed very much in the past hundred years. Why do we have trouble understanding that?
It's off the canvas. It's not made of marble.
Lazy minds have trouble thinking about the same topic if it changes form. It is that simple.

People who say differently didn't have enough education, or are really stubborn. And those of them who try to enforce their judgment into the art institutions are just plain mad.

Balhatain said...


"It appears to me that you fear that when people start defining art, then pretty soon anything non-realism would be out."

I don't have that form of fear. It is obvious from my interviews that I welcome various forms of art and artists. I work to gain exposure for as many artists as I can regardless of their background.

"The ARC will never be able to destroy other areas of the art world"

The Academy said the same thing about modern art.

I just don't like it when certain groups try to dictate what art can or should be. I would be just as bothered by ARC if they supported non-realistic works in an elitist manner.

As for art as a profession. That is a tough area. I've known plenty of artists who do not see their work as a profession- even though they are able to live off of the sell of their work (they don't view it as work). So just because you say that it is a profession does not mean every artist in the artworld is going to agree with that.

You also mentioned before that art is craft and that modern views have changed the way that the artist is seen. Not everyone views it that way. Many would be offended if you called them a craftsman instead of simply an artist. Also, as far as artists being "wackos", many of the Old Masters were considered "wackos" by their peers. So keep that in mind.

As far as viewing art as a profession- why should it be different than any other profession. You make it sound as if only the highly trained and skilled artists should be called a professional. Someone in a profession may not be as good as others in the same profession. However, they are still accepted for the profession that they work in. Right?

What makes an artist professional? Is it the number of pieces he or she has sold? Is it the price that the art is purchased for? Is the painter who sells five paintings for $100,000 more of a professional than the artist who sells 100,000 pieces of art for a $1 each? Think about that.

In my view, being an artist is not a title nor is it some form of badge. It is not a selective club that only a few people are born into. It is not a birthright nor is it a call from the heavens. Anyone can be an artist. That does not mean that everyone can be a good artist or that everyone can be a successful artist. However, what makes art good can be debated. I think that is where the focus should be.

As for your CEO example. I'm fairly certain that in a scenario like that it would be hard for the CEO to purchase work from a friend or to exploit his view of art in that manner. Most corporations hire art consultants in the first place- people who are involved in the artworld in one way or the other.

Thanks for your views and I hope you continue to post your opinions in the future. Communication is key. :P

Anonymous said...

I am an artist, a painter. I have found this to be the most perplexing question and have had many discussions about it and must admit with never any resolve. I think the problem is one of philosophy and context. Lets go to the extreme. A dog shits in the park, its a dog shit, no more, no less. A guy comes along and after some thought scoops it up and puts it in a gallery. Waxing lyrical about its form and beauty and how its a metaphor for human existence calls it art. A collector buys the "ärt", the gallery asks the guy to produce more. The questions abound. Is the guy an artist,a philosopher, a con man, a clever sales man? Have we been treading in art and didnt know it? Was the wole thing art or just a philosophical exersise, if so was the shit a work of art or just a philosophical object? Is a work of art just a matter of the context it is viewed in? If we get to this point then everything is art, there is seemingly no definition so what is the point. Surely there must be some thought to aesthetics. It is interesting to note the growth of the stuckist movement, and I would recomend reading their manifesto. It would offer another point of view and provoke more discussion. In the end this is one question with no difinetive answer, but isnt that what art is, a question with no answer

Anonymous said...

Oh the woes of false idols. Shit can be art, and be a con, or a philosophical object or just shit. But again, it goes back to intent, processes and context. What did the dog eat? Where does he live? Who owns him? How long to process the kibbles and bits into shits? Why the park? Does the dog have a sense of humor? Is that a sneaker print in the pile of poo? Who's sneaker? What kind of sneaker? How much for the sneaker?

But I digress.

I agree with the argument about money influencing art. This is where the real danger lies. Look how it affects our public and foreign policies. Look how money/advertising affects your local periodicals, television programming, radio listening. That's money making the choices, not you or me.

On a smaller level, the price of admission to a museum for some can be cost prohibitive. Is this how we as artists want it to be? Do we want money to be the decider or the people?

I too find it dangerous to say what art is or isn't. However, it is important to engage in discussion about it in order to seek meaning. It is our nature as sentient beings to seek meaning, attempt answers. It is how the brain works.

Unknown said...

In order to better understand what is or is not art, perhaps it would be helpful to try and imagine an urban space that doesn't have any.

OK, let's try to imagine the City Without Art.

At work,You can turn on the radio, but there's no music. Music doesn't exist. Just talk: news, opinion, advertising, propaganda...

At the end of your working day, you can't go to the theatre, or the opera, or a concert, or the movies; they don't exist. You can't go home and get comfortable with a good book; there are no novels, no short stories, no poetry. None of these things exist.

You can go to a restaurant, but remember, the culinary arts don't exist.

You can turn on the TV, but there are no movies, no comedies, no dramas. Just more talk talk talk and advertising. But even the ads have no element of art or music. They are not entertaining in any way.

You can read, maybe, the biography of a politician, a general, or a scientist (not a painter, or a singer, or an actor because there aren't any), but the prose is going to be utterly dry; remember, there are no "writers" as we know them, because writing is an art.

The visual arts don't exist either. No matter where you look, indoors or out, there are no gardens, no parks, no fountains, no sculptures. The buildings are not designed by architects. They are designed by accountants and engineers. Not only are they devoid of all ornament, they have been built with no thought to proportion or grace. There are no colored paints; whatever requires a coating to prevent oxidation is a dull red-brown. Everything else is the grey of unfinished concrete, except for the roofs, which are a dull, dirty white. All of them.

Inside, all furniture is exactly the same, whether you are in an office or a private residence. It's been designed by orthopedists and accountants. There are no printed or patterned fabrics, not on the upholstery, not on the floors, not on the people's clothing. There are no colors. Everything is utterly drab.

What would the clothing look like? Would there be windows? Go ahead, try to imagine it.

In my opinion, "what is (or is not) art" is a completely meaningless question. There is a scale, from artful to artless, that applies to literally everything that humans do.

If you don't believe this, try to imagine something that can not be done more artfully.