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View Full Version : What is art? Book research. Appreciate your$.02


warmgun
08-30-2001, 03:48 PM
I admit this is somewhat of an extension of this (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=84343) thread (which I started under a bad title), but I'm seriously considering putting together my copious notes into a book and I was looking for some feedback from the Sdopers.
Examples:
A random sentence generator I found on the net (sorry, no cite - my computer 'guru' wiped out all my bookmarks. Grr.) could churn out very Lennon-esque sounding prose. A la - "Looking through a glass onion."

A painting by an elephant, a 'man-on-the-street' and a famous abstract painter were put side by side. On a questionare, the average person could not tell which was painted by the 'real' painter.

Do you get where I'm going? Without a frame of reference, how do we know what 'real' art is? Are can we?

I appreciate all responses. Thanks,
Steve

Oh, and lest you think I'm not serious, my second post in the above link was a...(cough) 'cleverly' disguised bump. :)

Spavined Gelding
08-30-2001, 04:13 PM
Art,that is visual art, to get as basic about it as I can, is the exercise of skill by a human to create decoration. It can be functional as well as decorative, as in Danish furniture and church paintings, it can be instructive, as in the case of medical illustrations, but in the last analysis it is decorative. Sometimes its only decorative.

Damn, I love this message board. A guy doesn't have to know anything to participate. This is the board for liberal arts graduates and art historians.

Gomez
08-30-2001, 04:21 PM
The definition of art, what is art and what isn't, has been bugging me for a fair while now. I've heard people on these very boards say things like "Art is anything that produces an emotional response". As I understand it this is the basic definition. However, that means that there is nothing in the whole world that isn't art. Absolutely nothing. I'm serious, think of the most dull and mundane thing you can, a spark plug or something. Who's to say that your spark plug won't produce an emotional response in someone, somewhere out there? The fact is no-one can say that. The spark plug is art because we can't with say absolute certainty that it isn't. Therefore there is no such thing as art because there's no contrast between what is art and what isn't. We cannot pick up two objects (no matter what they are) and say this object is art but that object isn't. Therefore art as a separate, definable category doesn't exist.

Also, since Art is anything that produces an emotional response", I can justify (at least to myself) the most outlandish actions because byt his definition I am producing works of art. If I went up to you and kicked your blind, two legged dog in the face, that would be cruel but it would also be 'art' (I believe pldennison started a pit thread about something like this).

I personally wouldn't know where to start if I were to write about what art is and what art isn't (as you can tell I'm very confused by the whole thing myself). I think I would start from the dandruff on my shirt collar which provoked a strong emotional response of disgust from a coworker this morning, and branch out from there :)

Balance
08-30-2001, 04:22 PM
I'm hardly an expert, and will likely get lambasted for my naive views on the subject, but I have always thought of art as anything created or performed solely for the purpose of evoking an emotional response from an audience. That audience may only be the artist--"art for art's sake" is really for the satisfaction of the artist.

In your example of the elephant, the non-professional artist, and the famous painter, you might well argue that all three are art under this definition. In fact, the most questionable one is the "man-on-the-street"--is painting his hobby, or did someone just ask him to slap some paint around for the purposes of the survey? The famous artist painted with the intent of affecting an audience. The elephant (if it's the elephant I'm thinking of) painted because she likes to paint, and presumably draws some emotional satisfaction from the painting--she may also enjoy her keepers' enthusiasm over the painting.

I define art by intent. Bad art is art that fails to achieve the intent of its creator--it evokes the wrong emotions, or none at all, in its audience.

Balance
08-30-2001, 04:33 PM
What a simulpost! Gomez, you may actually be remembering something I've posted here, but there are some distinctions between what you said and my definition.

Also, after sitting here and meditating on greed and human nature, I'd like to strike the word "solely" from my definition and replace it with "primarily".

dalovindj
08-30-2001, 04:39 PM
Art is not anything that evokes ANY emotion. It is something that evokes CERTAIN emotions. Like awe, or love, or sorrow, or bliss. Nothing is art without perception. So art is really a matter of perception. So the definition changes based on who is doing the observing. One mans trash is another mans art and vise versa.

Some of the general qualities of art are as follows:

- It takes a conscious being (cats can paint too) to create.

- It is an expression of emotions and/or ideas.

- It evokes a response (see above)

After that, it's all just personal preference. The old "I know it when I see it" comes into full play. There is no real quantitative way to describe art, and therin lies one of the attractions. It speaks to us on a plane above and beyond words. Exactly how it does it is a bit of a mystery. But thank god it does, it makes life worth living for alot of people.

DaLovin Dj

bdgr
08-30-2001, 04:43 PM
I have always felt that art is expression. Something is art, only if the artist conveys an emotion or idea through it(not just an emotion caused by it by accident, but through design)

For instance, I am into furniture building as one of my far to many hobbys. A well made piece of furniture, no matter how much craftsmanship went into it, probably is not art. But if you look at the furniture of Gustave Stickley, his work often is art. He would design furniture to have a subtle impact on the observer. For instance, he would create a couch for a large open room to have high,solid sides to convey to the person using it a feeling of privacy and security, even though they were in a large open room. Of course, Stickley was a fanatic when it came to furniture.

Paintings can be like this. A painting painted to just look pretty on a wall and be sold at a starving artists sale at a motel, to me, is not art...no matter how well done. Because it was created as decoration, not to convey a particular idea or emotion.


And to be sure, just because its art, doesnt mean its good art.

Gomez
08-30-2001, 04:46 PM
[/quote]
Art is not anything that evokes ANY emotion. It is something that evokes CERTAIN emotions. Like awe, or love, or sorrow, or bliss. Nothing is art without perception.
[/quote]

What about shock, revulsion, horror or disgust? I think if an artist is trying to say something important then he would try to evoke those emotions as well. I remember a sculpture a friend of mine did in A-Level art class which depicted Jesus in full cricifixion gear (ie. next to nothing) being garrotted by a rope made of fifty pound notes. We go to a Catholic school!! The poor guy was damn near expelled but I think he made his point (that the ideals Jesus stood for were being choked by greed - herdly original but pertinent) quite well. I can also safely say that he got his intended reaction when ne evoked gut wrenching revulsion in our head of sixth form. Is his sculpture not art? In fact, I think it's one of the most powerfully evocative pieces of art I have ever seen.

Balance
08-30-2001, 05:10 PM
Originally posted by Gomez
What about shock, revulsion, horror or disgust? I think if an artist is trying to say something important then he would try to evoke those emotions as well.

I agree. These are valid targets for an artist--I may not enjoy art designed for this purpose, but that doesn't make it any less art. Also note that I did not say that art is anything that evokes an emotion. I said that it is anything created expressly to evoke an emotional response--an emotion or emotions chosen by the artist. If it evokes the wrong response, or no response at all, then it is bad art--a failure. Even so, I would have to classify it as art based on the motivation of the artist.

Chez Guevara
08-30-2001, 05:15 PM
What is art? Ask Tracey Emin. Listen carefully to what she tells you then exclude it. Everything else is art.

Chas.E
08-30-2001, 06:30 PM
There actually was a US Supreme Court decision on the question of what is art, Brancusi v. US Treasury Dept. Brancusi's famous "Bird in Flight" sculpture was imported to the US, Customs assigned it to a category with high import tariffs, it was declared to be a "machined metal implement" rather than a low tax art object. Brancusi sued US Customs to have it reassigned and taxed at a lower rate. Much testimony from the leading artists of the time was given before the court. In the end, SCOTUS declared that anything made by an artist for the purpose of being an artwork was art. An artist was defined as any person deemed to be an artist by other artists.
Nice circular definition there..

warmgun
08-30-2001, 08:20 PM
Ooooo....Good start. Thanks.
Now that we're warmed up:
First, I might play Devil's advocate here to help elicit responses. So when I say "art" I speak of the traditional meaning. Liberal arts stuff. So, humor me, and for the sake of this discussion let's not get too broad. Not that we have.
What do you think about Abstract Impressionism? Any Jackson Pollock fans? The first time or two he dribbled paint on a canvas it was Art, yes? But 5 yrs later of the same thing? Still art? Or expressionism? Maybe art should be divided from expressionism. If so, should Avant Garde fall into this catagory? I attended an opening where the 'artist' basically came right out and said if it's different, its art. I don't think so.

And...what about, say, movies...um, 'Rambo'...that appeal to HUGE audiances but that I wouldn't consider 'Art'. While true art films flop at the door. Or painters like Thomas Kinkade (shudder) who also appeal to incredibly large numbers of people while Odd Nerdum is basicall unknown. If mass appeal isn't a good measure of art, where does that leave us on the emotion issue?

Stay with me, I welcome and would appreciate an ongoing dialog.

delphica
08-30-2001, 08:52 PM
One of the problems about defining art is that the word in English is so darn broad. Things can be artistic without being art. We consider things such as writing, drama, film, music and dance to be "the arts," yet most art museums are visual art museums. We're not surprised when a charity dedicated to the funding of the arts gives money to produce a play, yet I think most people would be surprised to go to an art museum and find all the exhibits were about the art of cinematography.

Sometimes "art" is a synonym for "skill" as in culinary arts or the art of medicine. We use the phrase "arts and crafts" but there's a lot of debate over what exactly is a craft as opposed to an art, and which crafts get to be included as fine arts. The visual arts usually include painting, drawing, and sculpture, yet some collections will, as a matter of policy, include tapestries (a textile art) but not quilts (another textile art). Even the most conservative art museum (fine arts only, please!) will include antiques and artifacts from other cultures that would be considered a lowly craft if created in the present day. The study of the arts is also an art, the liberal arts.

I'm interested in learning from Dopers who speak other languages if this problem exists elsewhere. If we had a word in English for "things that exist for the purpose of looking at them" that was not the same as our umbrella term for creative things and endeavors, it would be easier to have this discussion.

Chas.E
08-30-2001, 10:35 PM
Oops, I reread my remarks, and I should have said (as if it wasn't obvious) that Brancusi won his lawsuit. "Bird in Flight" was declared an art object and not a machined metal implement. It's beautiful too, go see it, it's at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

warmgun
08-31-2001, 01:40 AM
I'm interested in learning from Dopers who speak other languages if this problem exists elsewhere. If we had a word in English for "things that exist for the purpose of looking at them" that was not the same as our umbrella term for creative things and endeavors, it would be easier to have this discussion. [/B]
That's a very good point, dephica, and one I hinted at in my last post regarding exspressionism. You've made me think of it another way as well. Some art is created for the world to look at - See what I did! - and some art is created because the soul of the artist drives him to create.
I'm curious to hear from non-American or non-english speaking Dopers as well.

Juicy...

warmgun
08-31-2001, 01:42 AM
Originally posted by warmgun
I'm interested in learning from Dopers who speak other languages if this problem exists elsewhere. If we had a word in English for "things that exist for the purpose of looking at them" that was not the same as our umbrella term for creative things and endeavors, it would be easier to have this discussion.
That's a very good point, dephica, and one I hinted at in my last post regarding exspressionism. You've made me think of it another way as well. Some art is created for the world to look at - See what I did! - and some art is created because the soul of the artist drives him to create.
I'm curious to hear from non-American or non-english speaking Dopers as well.

Juicy... [/B]

...or her.

A thousand pardons.

Gyrate
08-31-2001, 05:27 AM
Originally posted by bdgr
I have always felt that art is expression. Something is art, only if the artist conveys an emotion or idea through it(not just an emotion caused by it by accident, but through design).

And to be sure, just because its art, doesnt mean its good art.
I agree. Unfortunately, some artists feel that conveying an emotion by being provocative is the same (or better) than doing so by being evocative. Anyone can provoke an emotion, particularly negative ones. Where's the skill in that? And furthermore, what's the point? Creating something which strikes a deep and universal chord -- now that takes talent and insight.

And don't get me started on Tracey Emin grrrr...I went to see her box o' knickers at the Tate. She tries to be clever and obscure, but barely succeeds at being mundane and pointless. It did provoke a reaction in me, but the reaction was "Huh. So?". :mad:

Gartog
08-31-2001, 07:16 AM
Tracy Emin recently said (according to the my local paper, which is normally pretty good at this dort of thing)
paraphrasing

That she sometimes thinks than what she does is pointless and meaning less

CalMeacham
08-31-2001, 07:49 AM
I tried to get answers on this sort of thing, and to find out what constituted "Good Art" many years ago. Is art by my four year old daughter MilliCal art? It certainly evokes an emotional response. On a technical level, I think she's better than many people ten times her age. But I don't think most people would classify it as "Art" with a capital "A".

I read several books with titles like "What is Art?" or "An Introduction to Modern Art". These turned out to be amazingly condescending. Putting a naturalistic Romanic painting side-by-side with an Abstract piece, it asked "Which artist do you think used his imagination more?" Arrrgh! So bad impressionism is better than good Romanticism?

Wliiam Hogarth is an Artist. He produced engravings in large quantities at low price. He filled his pictures with "stories" that expressed his ideas and viewpoints and (bluntly) his propaganda. His meaning was easy to discern and was there for the common man to see. He weighed in against slavish adoration of the Old Masters simply because they were Old , and against dismissing New Artists simply because they were new. His stuff was filled with stereotypes and sometimes low humor, and was very accessible. Why is Hogarth an Artist and Norman Rockwell simply an Illustrator?

Some books I've read condemned Salvador Dali for turning Christian, and "ignoring the implied Marxism of Cubism". Hunh? How is an art style inevitably tied to a political philosophy?

The truth is that Art seems to be not merely resident in the brushstrokes on the canvas, but is tied to the whole culture of Art, its establishment, its past, and its theories. Read Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word. Look at all the artists and critics who are criticized for not being in tune with what has been done and with current trends. Of course, all human endeavor is bound up with culture and society, but we often tend to think of Art as different -- we can appreciate ancient Cave Paintings or Pre-Columbian pottery without knowing much about the culture and society that produced them (although the more we know, the better equipped we are and the farther we see), so we assume the same thing about more recent Art. But it seems to me that the World's consensus is effectively that you can't really appreciate contemporary art without knowing something about the artist, the subject, and the art scene besides what you can glean from looking at the work itself.

Stellablue
08-31-2001, 12:11 PM
Ah Ha! I know the answer to this one. I went to art school! We kept notes on the bathroom wall and finally came up with a short definition of art.
So here it is from the backstage bathroom wall at NCSA.

ART

1. It takes more than 15 minutes to create.
2. You can not eat it.
3. It is probably red.

You are welcome. :)

Robot Arm
08-31-2001, 11:40 PM
I've been mulling over this question myself for a while, and I'm being slightly drawn to a rather techno-geeky answer.

A few years ago I went to see Blue Man Group. For those of you who don't know them, they're a performance art collective (for lack of a better term) that started out in New York and now does shows in a few other U.S. cities, too. I was absolutely stunned, they were brilliant. But I went back to work a couple days later and was so enthusiastic about it that I tried to describe their act to some of my friends. And I realized that that's why performance art is so often mocked and satirized, I couldn't describe or summarize without losing what made it special.

I'm beginning to apply that idea to other arts. No one would think that describing "Wheat Field with Crows" would be as good as seeing the real thing (and thanks to whoever posted the link in that other thread, that Van Gogh site is fascinating). A reproduction print isn't quite good enough, either, you have to see the real thing.

So here's my geeky definition; art is something which can't be reduced without losing some of its essential nature. I'm a software engineer, so I know a little bit about compressing pictures and sound files. There's always some loss of quality from the original, even if it's too small to ever be noticed. And I think that metaphor carries over to other ways of presenting things. A print of a painting doesn't have the brushstrokes. We accept that because we can't get to every musuem in the world, but it's missing something important.

Which is not to say that art can't be reproduced, or even mass produced. Rodin made multiple casts of his sculptures, Escher made many prints of his lithographs. But if I sat on a rock and rested my chin on my hand, or told you about a cool drawing of a building where the stairs only went up, that just wouldn't cut it.

I think the subjectivity argument is contained within my definition as well. I said it can't be reduced or simplified without losing its essential nature, but what's essential to one person might not be essential to another. If you only need a spark plug to be a spark plug, then any old spark plug will do, out with the Champion and in with the Bosch. But if you see the company logo and start thinking about the sticker from the cereal box that you put on your bike when you were a kid, then it matters.

capybara
09-06-2001, 04:11 PM
Well, perhaps art is more like a verb than a noun-- it is something that can be recognized in terms of experience rather than defined by its objectness. The spark plug (or driftwood, naturally made but still often considered under the art rubric) is made into an art object when it is selected and presented for consideration in terms of its aesthetic formal characteristics. That being said, the whole "is it art?" question is a bit of trouble. Let's just acknowledge that yes, Rambo is art, and so is a sparkplug if we look at it in that way. Then the question would be whether it is Good Art. It would be a question first of context (is it art? Well I'm considering it as if it were. . .) and then of taste (it's art, but it's bad or banal or common enough so that it doesn't belong in a museum-- a qualitiative judgement, and one is free to disagree).

23skidoo
09-06-2001, 06:02 PM
Originally posted by Stellablue
Ah Ha! I know the answer to this one. I went to art school! We kept notes on the bathroom wall and finally came up with a short definition of art.
So here it is from the backstage bathroom wall at NCSA.

ART

1. It takes more than 15 minutes to create.
2. You can not eat it.
3. It is probably red.

You are welcome. :)

Damn, I never knew my mother's spaghetti sauce was art.

Revedge
09-06-2001, 11:41 PM
Capybara is on the right track. As an artist and professor I teach my students that Art is a communication between the artist and his/her audience. The artist may be communicating ideas, emotions, or any number of things. A visual artist may be trying to communicate a beautiful moment in time that they observed. I musician some emotional sequence of sounds. A writer a particularly important idea. etc, etc. Andy Warhol showed us that commercial art was Art through his recreation of tomatoe soup can art.

As for Pollack, he showed us that randomness can be beautiful. He tended to repeat himself, which is a problem for artists sometimes.

And yes, Rambo does qualify as art in my definition. But it would be an example of bad art. (IMHO)

Heinlein said it very well. (I'm paraphrasing here) An artist can look a an old woman and make us see her as she currently looks. A very good artist can look at the old woman, see the beautiful girl she used to be, and recreate the beautiful girl for us to see. A great artist can see the old woman, recreate her as she currently is, and make us see the beautiful girl she once was.

Chas.E
09-07-2001, 12:14 AM
Originally posted by Revedge
Capybara is on the right track. As an artist and professor I teach my students that Art is a communication between the artist and his/her audience.
This is no longer a sufficient definition. Some artists produce works that make no communication with an audience whatsoever, for example John Cage. You might argue that this is a communication, but it isn't, it's a metacommunication. The artwork is constructed completely within the mind of the recipient, without any communication from the artist.
Furthermore, there are some artists who create works that communicate, but with no audience. I could go on and on, but I don't think you want a lecture on postmodernism.

Gyrate
09-07-2001, 04:04 AM
Following on from Chas. E's comments, I have some serious personal objections to "artworks" which require extensive explanation for the audience to "get". For example, while I may be able to appreciate the aesthetic value of a utilitarian object such as, say, a urinal, if I have to read the little placard to find out that what it really represents is "Man's inhumanity to man", IMO the artist has failed in a major way.

I suppose what I resent is the arrogance implicit in the assumption that the artist's interpretation of the deeper meaning inherent in everyday objects is the only valid one. Which is why I've stopped reading the little cards in art galleries before I observe the artwork. If it doesn't say something to me without me having to be told, it's not worth my time.

Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

jinty
09-07-2001, 07:24 AM
There was an excellent-but-infuriating debate on BBC radio 4 a few weeks ago, with a London Art Critic and a Computer Geek debating whether computer games qualified as art. The LAC sniffed that it wasn't because he'd only ever tried it once and it gave him a headache; the CG claimed it was because of some new technical feature which the next generation of on-line games would incorporate.

Scarcely a meeting of minds, but it did make me laugh :)

dragonfly98
09-08-2001, 11:01 AM
Art cannot ever be just so much colorful slop. For example, a wildflower field, though breathtaking and beautiful, is not a garden and vice versa. Also art is not created it just happens.

elfkin477
09-08-2001, 06:40 PM
I've thought about this one too. I decided in the end that I personally define art as "a meaningful out-pouring of creativity." This doesn't mean that the piece of art is necessarily meaningful to you or I, but that it is to the creator. In this way, even the drawings of a four year old are art, since the child feels that it has meaning. Maybe even the elephant, if s/he is painting in a intentional manner, but I don't know any painting elephants to ask. This also means that great artists can produce work that is not art, because it holds no meaning for them.

These are examples of what I consider art:
all of the visual arts like painting and drawing
sculpting and some architecture(cathedrals probably yes, office buildings probably not)
poetry and prose
music
dance

The one I still can't decide on is acting. The script itself can be art, but it's hard to know how much of an actor's character is given to them, and how much they themselves create. The best I can determine is some acting is and some isn't.

BJaneDoe
09-10-2001, 02:41 PM
Though I don't have a clear definition of what art is, I tend to think the answer lies somewhere nearer the artist's side than the observer's side.

I don't think all art is created for the purpose of evoking a response in those who view it, hear it, touch it or smell it. Not to say that there aren't mercenaries out there who wouldn't prostitute themselves (artistically) for a buck or two and create something just because they know it would sell or shock you. But I think that genuine art arrives from the thoughts or feelings of its creator. It doesn't have to be "good" or "bad" art and it is not later decided if it's art by measuring the affects on the people experiencing it.

This is a great item to think and talk about. There are so many different ways to look at it.