I’ve featured more than a handful of posts on this blog that have to do with art – from my Wandering Bard series to the recently revamped schedule that has me blogging about various works every Wednesday. But then it hit me – how much do you guys know? What are you interested in? What would you like me to talk about? Because, really, I can go on and on about anything I like, but there’s really no point if you guys just give it a cursory glance and then hit ‘delete.’
So, let’s start with the most basic of questions: what is art? Did I say basic? I meant to say ‘one of the most complex and widely debated questions of all time.’
Yes, it’s that serious.
The definition that you’ll find if you plug the word into Google is this: “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture.”
But I went to school for four years to study art history. It’s a lot more complicated than that (and we’ll get to that in a minute). We were also taught to create an individual definition of art. Why? Well, art is subjective – you like certain pieces and you don’t like others. So, shouldn’t the definition be subjective too? Should you and the random Joe on the street corner have the same EXACT definition of art if your tastes and opinions are a million miles apart?
I agree with this, and I think it’s important for someone to have a very strict sense of what they like and what they don’t like, what they consider art and what they don’t consider art. In a way, I wish I had a strict definition, but I don’t. And I probably never will. Maybe this stems from the fact that I’m a writer – how can someone say that what I’m doing is not writing just because they don’t like it? So, my definition of art is pretty close to the textbook version. If the artist intends it to be art – how can we argue with them, the creator, the person that made it?
Now, that’s not to say that just because I have a broad definition of the term, doesn’t mean that I think all art is GOOD art. On the contrary, I’m deeply connected with both Classical and Renaissance art. There are very, very few modern pieces that I actually enjoy. And I can probably count them all on one hand. So, just because it might be considered art, doesn’t mean that I have to like it!
So, here’s a monkey wrench to throw into the machine (I did promise you complex, right?). What about when art is not created, but found?
There is a type of art called “readymade art,” also known as “found art.” This type of art is simply an object that has not been altered (or only altered moderately, but is at least still recognizable), but has been declared “art.” You might know which direction I’m heading in: Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain.
We’ll get into what it means in a second, but here’s some more about readymade art. There are some rules to this category. Or, at least, one main one: the artist must have an idea about it – a reason why it would be considered art. This is almost always reflected in the title of the piece.
Now, here’s the interesting part. Fountain’s purpose, as described by American Dada artist Beatrice Wood, was to shift the focus away from aesthetics (what the piece looked like) and focus it more on the meaning of the object. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Furthermore, she wrote, “Whether Mr Mutt [R. Mutt, Duchamp’s alleged pseudonym, as signed on the piece] made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.”
Well…that kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a fan of Duchamp or this particular piece, but the idea behind this kind of art really stretches the imagination. It forces you to think about what you would consider art and what you wouldn’t. So, now the definition isn’t so much about the creation of an object, but the thought put into the significance of it.
And if you’re wondering, the meaning of the piece is slightly skewed. Some believe that it looks like the head of the Madonna, or perhaps the body of a classic Buddha statue. The title plays with several ideas, of which the name R. Mutt is also a part of. Perhaps it’s an acronym. Perhaps it has to do with the German armut (“poverty”). Or perhaps all the current (and past) interpretations are wrong and the artist meant something else entirely.
(And just in case you’re weird like me and like to know strange and gross facts about things, check this out: The original is gone now. All that remains is a photograph. However, there are some copies that are in museums around the world, one of which is an artist approved replica. And, apparently, several performance artists have successfully added their contribution to the piece…by urinating in it.)
So, here are some questions that I’d honestly like you to answer because it’ll help me gauge your interest in these subjects. What do you consider art? Do you think Fountain should be considered art? If not, how come? And lastly, what is your favorite kind of art? Do you have any requests?