What is Art? (a counterpoint to the changing popular beliefs)

April 12th 2012  || by  || Add Reply

I rarely comment on the work of others publicly, and generally stay away from posting my opinions on YouTube, but I felt that I had to share my point of view when I came across a video titledWhat is Art?. Watch it here:

My opinion might be different from many other viewers’ (as you can see on YouTube, in the video’s comment section), and by some, even considered extreme, which is why I thought it would be important to share an expanded version of my original comment below.

While I like the first half of the piece, in which the title question is asked and examples are presented, showing some typical and not so typical forms of art, focusing on the complexity and subjective nature of the question itself, I don’t like the second half, where it implies that every creation that means something to someone (anyone) can be considered art.

The question the video poses is great, however I don’t agree with the implied conclusion. In my opinion, the words “art” and “artist” are used extremely lightly these days. Most everyone is automatically referred to as an “artist” who happens to snap a “good” photo, or can sing better than average on a Christmas party, or draws some random shapes that “must mean” something (and the meaning is often forced on the drawing after it’s completed, just to validate it as “art”). This is not everyone, but a growing percentage of the population. So, thank to the internet, humanity has seen an exponential, 10,000-times growth of artists and real art in the past 20 years? I don’t think so.

I believe it takes way more to create true “art”… to start with, a personal, direct or indirect experience-based perspective on life, or an element of life (which is why art students usually have disadvantage simply because of their extent of life experience, also why an art degree doesn’t make one an artist). It also takes an original way of expressing that personal message. Despite of having composed hundreds of hours of original music (most commissioned) for movies, television, installations, etc. that won awards, etc., I’ve never in my life felt comfortable calling myself an “artist”, nor my pieces “art” – and in fact never said these words. Funnily, many creators I’ve worked with (both new & established), boldly introduce themselves: “I’m an Artist” – this is especially true in the U.S., where people feel more comfortable about declaring themselves as something/someone that they wish to be.

To me, the statement about being an artist, and the result of creativity being a piece of art should never come from the creator. Instead of asking what’s art and what’s not, which is a blurred line anyway due to its subjective nature, I’d rather draw the lines between these categories:

1. technology-dependent creative users
2. artsy dreamers (self-declared “artists” / wannabe-s)
3. entertainment industry production professionals, and
4. true artists

Surely there is nothing wrong with being any of these, or liking their work. In many cases there is even an overlap between these categories). My problem is with those statements that generalize “art” and “artist”, and put the creations of all people of the above categories into the carelessly used and overused concept of real, actual Art. This doesn’t seem to be fair to those who are in categories #4 (and  in some cases #3 – “applied arts” is another subject for another time), and overly generous to #1 and #2. I think it’s actually not just stupid, but irresponsible: the more people accept today’s average consumer’s innocently but disgustingly broad definition of art, the more the fake-artists, non-artists and wannabe-artists will be encouraged to feel like true artists creating real art, justifying their made-up-on-the-fly concepts and products, the prices and success of their work… which in turn, will keep driving down the average or summed quality standard of all art being created, essentially diluting the original concept of Art itself. To call artsy dreamers’ concept-less creations “pieces of art”, especially by them, is just as false and ignorant, as calling a gene-modified, chemical-injected cow’s milk which has 50% artificial ingredients and has gone through various preservation processes “nature’s organic gift”. The overly liberal definition of art, just like in the case of food, results in a mass-produced, thin, value-less version of the original, a dishonest product. Of course, there comes marketing, which seemingly adds the lost value back by smartly and boldly declaring the lie to be true. No wonder, many of the “successful” artists are way, way better at self-marketing than at anything else.

This wouldn’t even be a problem, if there wasn’t a large enough demand for the valueless work. But there is – thank to at least two major groups.

First, the average consumer, who just doesn’t see the difference between the artsy stuff and the art piece (growing up and consuming television and video games throughout their life, how would they?) Then, the snobby buyer version of the “artist” group #2 (see above), who think that everything that’s under-marketed (used to be called “alternative” and “underground” in the ’80s) and uncommon is artsy, not understood by the masses, therefore unique and worthy of is price. The “artist” gets paid, the circle closes and the process starts all over. Just like in a factory. Again, this is more true in the U.S., where marketing originated from and art and entertainment are easily mixed, but the nose-diving trend is a world-wide phenomenon. I suppose the limitless artistic collaboration and distribution possibilities that the internet gives us has its great benefits, but is also a curse on a larger scale. Good things can be created that would have been impossible to conceive (read about Brian Eno’s great concept of “scenius”), but the cultural trash also has a much easier way to spread around the Planet, quickly infecting the unsuspecting consumer population.

Although it may be reproduced with that goal, art is not created to deceive nor to help counterbalance a buyer’s lack of individual opinion or consumer-grade taste. In my opinion (here comes the extreme statement), true Art is not created with a specific goal at all, but it is created with/from a personal concept of an idea, ideology or message. In other words, the message itself, the way that message is expressed and the delivery of that message (sharing with an audience) are the purpose of Art’s existence. And no, drawing random circles with absolutely no concept behind it or hitting the piano keys as fast as possible, then adding some marketing to both to ensure good sales figures is certainly not art but cheap circus. Just because it has not been done before, it won’t make it art. And true art doesn’t need to be re-defined by trends and it certainly doesn’t need marketing to become what it already is.

I suppose all this isn’t much more helpful in drawing the line than the video is…. but I hope that it provides a counterpoint to the video, at least. I could never define what true art mean to you, but I am pretty sure to know when I hear or see a piece that is not honest – which, to me, isn’t art either.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Complete * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.