Sunday, July 25, 2010

What is art?

This probably caught the eye of a few WC friends because, for some reason, it has caused a venomous dispute on our site. If we talk about "what is art" now, we quietly email/PM each other. I think this Blog is safe of venom because I have no (or very few) readers anyway...and one in particular from WC doesn't read my Blog.

I was listening to NPR as I was driving to the Manchester, NH, airport last Friday and heard an author (I believe he was from Yale) talk about his book where he writes what is essential for art (or other things) to become popular/valuable. We have tried to define art on WC, and the most agreed-upon (though not unanimous) definition is that if the creator considers it art, it is. Therefore, while some think Tracey Emin's "My Bed" is art because she considers it so, there is huge disagreement on our site whether it really is. Venomous disagreement! Strange.

In the interview with this author on NPR, he said that if the art is done by someone who is recognized as an artist, it is "valuable" art. For example, if someone doesn't know a piece has been created by Picasso, he/she might not like it and therefore wouldn't consider it art. That would change if he/she found out who the artist was. That definition was discussed on WC, and I have talked about it privately with one of our members.

However, I don't buy it. First, how does the artist get recognized in the first place? Were Monet's or other artist's pieces not art before he was recognized as an artist? Secondly, there is plenty out there that has been created by a well-known artist that I don't like at all. It's still art; I just don't like it. Tracey Emin's pieces would be examples.

I hope I haven't put words into the mouth of this author because I just heard the report as i was driving and couldn't take notes or find it online. That was how I interpreted his analysis. I do, realize, though that there is a difference between "what is art?" and "what is valuable art?" Maybe he'd call some picture that I painted "art" if I would, but it just wouldn't be "valuable art." I wish I could find his book!


Bob Hale said...

Let's hope you are right about your readership!

The main problem with the "art is something made by a [recognized] artist" definition is that it leads to the definition of an artist as "someone who makes [recognized] art" and we have a chicken and egg definition.

The argument we've had stems from two things. One is the conflation of "art" with "good art" when talking about it. The other is that if you DON'T use the "it's art if the creator says it's art" definition, you end up with the "it's art if I say it is" definition which is surely worse as for any given piece there will be some who say it is and some who say it isn't: valid enough if giving an opinion on whether it is good art, but pretty useless a a definition.

Kalleh said...

Yes, I agree on both counts. And I am sure I am right about my readership.