“I looked up the word geek today and it’s defined as a peculiar person who’s overly obsessed with one or more things usually including electronics or the arts.”— Craig Ferguson, 5/25/10 Monologue (via rufustfirefly)
I’m just gonna say it: art. I didn’t want to say it, I don’t want to hear it ever again, but here we are.
Why don’t I want to hear about it? I’m a veteran of that war. Anyone who went to art school is. We have PTSD from that endlessly repeated conversation. We have flashbacks, we get the shakes. The trigger: someone, anyone, asking, “what is art?”
It doesn’t have to be up and stated outright. The trigger phrase is hidden within any number of statements. For instance, when a film critic with a Twitter account says that video games are not art, the natural followup becomes, “Well then… what is art?” And suddenly we’re in some goddamn flourescent-lit student lounge, sitting on a nine-dollar couch across from a dude whose shirt is self-consciously spattered with daubs of encaustic, hip-to-hip with the girl who stamped each page of a copy of The Feminine Mystique with an ink print of her own labia, hearing the guy over our shoulder mention Duchamp for the sixth time this week, and it all just needs to stop right now.
I had a professor, Harrell Fletcher, who is better known as an artist than a teacher, and anyone who immerses themselves in both the art world and art education has certainly been through this conversation enough times to come out the other side. I appreciated his perspective, which was open and accepting while deftly dismissing the question entirely. I’m paraphrasing but, as I remember it: “Art is anything that someone claims to be art. It is then your job to determine for yourself whether you believe that thing is good or bad art.”
This acknowledges a number of important aspects of the words in play here. For one, “art” has no concrete definition. Anything more specific than “something which someone has chosen to call art” can be challenged from any number of angles. Is art something that someone calling themselves an artist makes? No, because John Ford wouldn’t call himself an artist or his films art, but Francois Truffaut would say they were. Is it something that someone creates to express feeling or emotion? No, let’s look at Minimalism or Andy Warhol. So on and so forth. I can smell the nine-dollar burlap upholstery now.
But first and foremost, above all, the term “art” is not qualitative. There may be good art or bad art as the viewer determines it, but something being called simply “art” is not in and of itself either good or bad. It is at most a classification, like “food” or “animal,” but it is a classification without any objective requirements, only subjective ones, which means the definition is specific to the individual. One is free to define what is or is not art for themselves if it helps them sleep at night, meaningless as it may be, but anyone who claims to be the arbiter of defining the term for others is absolutely bankrupt in their reasoning, much too enamored of their own opinion for it to be worth a damn, and should likely not be taken seriously in matters such as these.
The Mona Lisa is a painting. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a movie. Ico is a video game. And art is just a word.
Harrel Fletcher was a visiting artist in Alfred my freshman year. I remember his lecture very well, because it was the first time anyone had tried to explain art around/to me.
Art is a huge bitch. It doesn’t make sense where the lines are drawn. Is it concept? An aesthetic exercise? Both? Neither? Then throw in somewhere like Alfred where we are completely divided down the middle between being a craft school and a “Fine Arts” school and let me tell you, I am sure there have been fist fights about art theory. I’ve seen art history discussions dissolve into screaming matches between students.
Art is hard to understand and define and work within. Look at postmodernism. The only reason I understand it (about as well as anyone can) is because I’ve spent three years working on my BFA and an art history minor. Art is fucking confusing, and I think that’s why so many people reject it. You have to think. Hard.
Is it rewarding to walk in somewhere and know the artist, how they made it, the artistic theory and concept behind something? Is it rewarding to be able to make stuff?
I have no idea. And that’s why I’ve been freaking out recently.
Art school made me realized that I don’t really know anything.
I believe that quote is a great definition of art. It doesn’t matter what it is, how it was made, or who made it. Considering something art or calling someone an artist is strictly opinion based and the question ‘what is art?’ can never be answered simply. It’s pretty much a math problem without a definite answer. What is art today? What was art in 1950? What was art a thousand years ago? These smaller, time based questions can help define the whole but still won’t break it down entirely.