What exactly fits into the category I’m calling Art? We all have some idea of what is meant when we hear the word. Painting, sculpting, photography, music, filmmaking, dancing. What about cooking? Perhaps. Maybe even gardening? Hmmm. Lots to think about.
Before we know what fits under the big tent that encompasses the three-ring-circus that is Art, it helps to know what criteria are employed to determine what does or doesn’t fit, and why. For instance, “Is the Red Skelton painting of a clown that’s hanging in the cubicle of the nice lady across the aisle at the office really Art? Really? You’re kidding, right?”
So why don’t I just give up the definition right now and get it out of the way, okay? Here it is:
Art is an interpretation of one’s own universe.
That’s it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I can’t take credit for that elegant definition myself though. That one was offered up by my good friend John Nagridge back during the great Internet Art Wars. I had come up with one myself, but it’s far too clunky. By your furrowed brow I can see that you might be about to ask, “How’d you come by that?” Let’s take it step by step.
We come at the problem with the idea that some things definitely are Art, while other things certainly are not. But how do we know the difference between the two?
Let’s take something that we know isn’t Art at all. Say you’re walking along and you come across a big rock lying by the side of the road.
It doesn’t look like it’s been touched by human hands, and certainly hasn’t been bestowed with some deep meaningful title. We pull up the pick-up truck and have a couple of friends risk hernias to lift it into the back and haul it to our studio. Once there it is sculpted into the form of a young man holding a sling in heroic fashion.
David, Michelangelo, 1504
We title it David, so as to portray the Biblical figure who slew the giant Goliath with a rock to the noggin. This version of the rock we might safely label as Art.
What is the difference between the rock by the side of the road and the completed sculpture? Lots of things. Firstly, it’s been shaped into something recognizable, and purposely so. It has a title and has been endowed with some meaning - that the sculpted figure before us represents something that isn’t inherent in its form. By that I mean that the naked guy is supposed to be the David from the Bible story, but unless we know this information beforehand, there’s nothing within the sculpture that tells us this.
Are these differences the things that make it Art? Not necessarily. I’ve seen lots of so called Art out there that is labeled nothing more than Untitled. Having a title doesn’t appear to bestow any magical artistic quality upon our statue of David the Giant Killer. Is it that the Art be something recognizable? Maybe, but what if it’s representing something new that we’ve never experienced before? What does that leave us with? The meaning behind the Art? Why should I care what it means?
Next time: What Intentions?