Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What, is Art. Who, is an Artist?

Have you ever wondered, "Just what in the Hell is Art?" Maybe after you saw some exhibit, or some new piece of Art installed somewhere. Maybe you didn't like it, maybe you did but didn't understand it. Maybe it is art and you are just ignorant. Or maybe its isn't art, and you are just observant. Have you ever wondered?

Well, I have. Try living with an Artist sometime. You won't have a choice except to wonder. That argument has to come up or they are not, simply put, an Artist. Its one of those facts of life.

I believe there are two schools of thought on what defines Art. One, is that the Artist, being its creator, is the only one capable of defining that the art they produced, is indeed, Art. Sounds pompous. Doesn't it?

The other, is that Art, is in the eye of the beholder. Sounds diffuse.

Wikipedia has this to say: "Traditionally, the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery. This conception changed during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as, 'a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science'. Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions."

Using that definition, I can see that literally ANY thing, could be considered art; whether it be seen that way by you, the Artist, or by anyone else's definition.

But, do we really want that loose of a definition for it?

I have found that it helps when you don't understand something, to come up with a few terms to help break it down. Take any subject, say fear. First understand that there are different kinds of fear, and you beat it. Otherwise, it always appears overwhelming. So there is fear of courage, fear of panic, fear of imminent death, fear you will slip while free climbing a cliff, etc. So knowing, helps you to attenuate your responses and better understand what you are dealing with. Fear of slipping while free climbing, is sane a fear, it can keep you alive. But if you treat it as if it were fear of panic or imminent death, you are probably dead.

So to differentiate my considerations in talking about Art:
-Art vs. art
-Artiste vs Artist vs artist
-High Art vs low art
-Being high when you view art vs not being high (okay, just checking if you're paying attention)

Notice a pattern?

For myself, I refuse to accept that if an artist says its Art, that makes it Art. That is a concept, a theory. Making a theory into practice, can lead to this kind of confusion. Perhaps, this is one of those times. Perhaps.

Of course, Artists are nothing if not Idealistic by nature.

On the other hand, if a true Artist, or "Artiste", says its "Art", it probably is. However, if an artist, or maybe an Artist, says so, then its not necessarily so.

This is all a matter of Quality, really. Expertise, Genius, Craftsmanship (yeah yeah, its not sexist, let's just say that's in the Old World meaning of being highly perfectionist in one's craft).

Here is the problem I've found with just going with the flow of the Zeitgeist and saying that anything is Art. To give any Artist (yes, capital "A", see, I'm being nice and giving them the benefit of the doubt), has license to say that any thing they claim as Art IS Art, then they can get lazy, sloppy, or even lie. It really leaves us at a disadvantage. If I accept that anything an Artist claims to be Art is, then what if they claim something is Art, but they are actually lying and they don't really believe it? Then what?

Mother to my son and a long time ex-wife of mine, was a self professed "artist". She used to claim that anything was art. Drove me a little batty, but she WAS the "artist" so....

But then, she also professed a love of, "the Art of the Ugly" and acted funny that I'd never hard of that before (we both attended the same University). I lived my entire life in a striving for what was beautiful, lovely, perfect, or magical (a classically romantic definition I'll grant you, but still, it made sense to me for most my life up to that point).

To have someone say that Art could be or should be, something ugly, to find beauty in ugliness, was a real mind opener (bender) for me. And for that I do thank her.

Her friends used to glue all kinds of stuff to their cars (Barbie dolls, doll heads, junk, whatever but in some kind of order, usually) and then drive around town with mobile art. Now, it might be "cool" to do that, but that's not saying its Art. I caved on that for years, because I wanted to seem cool, or artist-like, but hey, I finally had to think about it one day and go, wait a minute!

Randomly gluing crap to something, is crafts.

Art, takes skill, thought, depth of levels of meaning, metaphor, expertise. It should be something beyond what just anyone can do; and by definition, I would argue, it should.

Much of what her and her friends did, they called art (okay just about everything). After all, she was an Art Major in college (five years of college, switching her major five times, yet never graduating with a four year degree (or a two year degree, for that matter); hmmm, that might indicate something there...).

Anyway, supposedly, she was an "artist". To be fair, she got into an Art Gallery. And a nice one. She was progressing, selling, gaining fans (or art appreciators) but then dropped it. The Gallery owner told me later, after we had divorced, that she really didn't understand, as people had liked her works. She was making a line of multi-color, cut glass jewelry as well as painting furniture in cool clever ways.

Not high Art, but Art. Okay, maybe crafts, but its debatable, you know?

This was the kind of stuff that prompted me to start differentiating between Artists like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, even Pollack, and current day college student "artists" (some not even with a degree, not that one's required, really).

So I learned to call what I consider to be an artist, an "Artiste" (Art Teest accent on the second syllable); and the others, I called simply "artists" (pronounced, "craftsmen", okay, craftspeople if you prefer, but that sounds kind of dumb).

My younger brother, is an Artiste. An incredible Artist, a certified Genius. My son's mother, as I mentioned, is an artist. Most of her friends (that I'd met) were also, artists. Much of what she did were actually craft works, making jewelery, masks, etc. But now at some point, I do believe they can or do turn INTO art. But consider that if we call anything and everything art, 1) it makes the real artists lazy, and 2) it devalues the hard work put into Art by Artistes.

That is sad. And that is unfair.

If I throw paint at a canvas and call it art, is that really as deserving of the name as the creations of incredible form and dimension, color and shading, that gives many levels of meaning, and done by one who studied for years to perfect the Art? Or that of an amazing work sculpted and presented with great and perhaps genius consideration to dimension, form, texture, light, presentation? Now, I'm not talking about Pollack's works either, I'm talking about ME throwing paint, which would in no way, be art. Only for the artistically challenged.

Art therefore, considers All aspects of its presentation. On the other hand, art, really does not. Does it.

From an Artist's (general term now covering all of them) point of view, calling
everything art, certainly gives them an easier go at it. Doesn't it? But from an Art lovers perspective, it devalues not only the monetary side of things, but the cultural side.

In recent times, Art has taken on a more contextual meaning over that of a true craftsmentality (using craft differently here, obviously). I don't know if this was because of the 1960's freer attitude toward everything, or not. And this had been coming that direction through the 1950s post WWII mentality. But I wouldn't take it back as far as to the Surrealists, because, if you've ever seen a Dali, its not something glued to the bonnet of a car. And getting completely off track, this concept of all kids in an event getting to win an award in a sport, or the concept of "all things are good", are really misconceptions. Sounds good, but only healthy in some ways, damaging in others.

I know this is a heated topic for many. But mostly for those who think more highly of themselves in an idealized concept of an artist (and you can figure out which usage I'm going for here), than they probably deserve.

So now we get into the realm of True Art, and that contextual, commercial, or pop type of art. And there may be others, I'm not an Art major. I just know when I look at something, if its art or not. I would argue that most "art" that I see, simply isn't "art". Yet people want to claim that anything titled as a piece of art is art.


Is THAT to be the definition then? Subjectivity? If someone simply claims its art, is it? Should it be? If another says the same thing isn't art, then is it, not? Perhaps and admittedly, this IS one of the great things about Art.

Its also a part of the Zeitgeist. And of course, what isn't art now, just might be, in 100 years. I'll grant you that, and I suppose we do need to be somewhat open minded.

So I guess, in the end, I find a difference between contextual art as metaphor and
icon; and traditional Art, as hard work, expertise, skill and craftsmanship
(and no, I'm not going to be politically correct there, now stop it, the word just sounds cool using the gender, "man", and I might add, as its intentionally used neutrally here).

So, have I really resolved anything here? Well, no, not really.

I have pointed out a difference in something, though. A difference between those who claim to be artists, and those who really have a miracle of an ability to create something far beyond the norm and into the unfathomable. And then there's those throwing some garbage together, and labeling it "art" and well, that just doesn't make it.

Quality. I believe, Quality may be the key element of concern here. Alas, what IS Quality?

Throwing something together, just to make someone "think", really isn't Art. That's a diorama. Art is that which is elevated beyond the craft, into a different (higher) level of existence, bringing with it many and varied meanings. And the only people that claim that is not true are the ones who do not have the skills to produce such art works. In order to make producing Art more accessible to the masses, they would devalue it to the point of having little meaning.

Comedian Phillis Diller, of all people had this to say about art: "...[in to that] go years of work, experience, and training, or all three. When it looks "easy," you're looking at art." I think she has something there. What you're looking at, obviously has to first BE art, first and foremost of course, with the caveat that if you can do that , AND make it look easy, then you are an Artist, or beyond that, an Artiste. Weird twist that, huh?

And now, we have to delve deeply into one final concept. That of the ending. Yes. That is really all I have to say about this topic. Though I think I've made my point clear. I thank you for this ride and opportunity to consider all this, and I hope you had a moment or two yourself. Of, consideration, a different thought, a new angle. I hope I've not offended anyone to the point of needing psychiatric help. And if I have, please, get it. No, really. Get it now.

I hope I may have sparked some interest in thinking about just what Art is, and who it is exactly, that is an Artist. Or an Artiste.

And so, I wish you well with that....

Tomorrow's Blog: Is Music Sacrosanct? Apparently, Not.


  1. i forgot to subscribe to the feed! any how what i was trying to tell you, actually suggest 2 artists: Hans Haacke and (especially) Robert Morris...because he was very interested in psychology, and various subject matter...and successfully utilizes so many thought processes in his work (i think you would be very surprised to find satisfaction and maybe a new thrill in "post modern" art work. i think you haven't been exposed to the right artists..really, because i know you're intelligent, and given the best of the post modern world---i put my neck on it, you'll change your mind[in regards to the high regard you have for the "craft" of art work... above all else]...if i got you right, that's what i feel the essence was, no?
    Any way a few other suggestions: look into the artist's involved in "land reclaimation", very interesting stuff. None of these artist's are doing anything without a lot of thought...and in their own ouvre, "craft"(where it makes sense).
    well i think that's it for enough now, i said enough...susana(FB friend)

  2. Thanks for the comments. You might be surprised that I find more art than it sounds like. That I like more art than it would appear. My words in the blog are trying to make a point, but my interest, understanding and appreciation, far exceed them. :)

  3. ok, am i getting this right? art is your object, not subject? sue (FB friend).

  4. Art/Artist, so yes, Art is my object, subject is my object. )