What is Art, and what is it for?

Howzat for a Great Debate?

Over in MPSIMS, we have been talking about American Beauty, which I happen to think is truly Great Art. This is because I think it fulfills and exceeds all of the requirements for Great Art: it reveals truth and beauty, simply put.

So it occurs to me to ask, what do the Teeming Millions think art is, and what is it for?

For instance, almost anything that is creative could be called art, but I think there is a difference between technical skill and real art.

Highly Skilled technicians:

Celine Dion
Norman Rockwell
Barbara Streisand
George Lucas
Meryl Streep (see artist’s list)

John Lennon
Bob Dylan
Steven Spielberg (particularly the last few years)
Meryl Streep
Georgia O’Keefe

This is just an “off the op of my head” assemblage. Meryl Streep, for instance, is probably the most technically skilled actor in the world, AND she is an artist. But I think that is rare.

So…debate away!

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These terms “technical skill” and "real art" are being thrown around too casually, I think.

People are moved by different things. For instance, I am moved by Norman Rockwell’s paintings regarding the Civil Rights movement. They had truth, beauty and skill. Other people find Rockwell a sentimental hack.

I do not care much for Celine Dion, but I do not doubt that she has moved some of her fans, and they feel they find truth and beauty in her work.

Some art really isn’t about “truth” - it’s just beautiful. I mean - an opera singer usually sings operas written by other composers - they just sing. But are they just technically proficient? No - they are artists, at least I think so.

What “truth” does Van Gogh reveal when he painted the sunflowers? What “truth” do most landscape artists reveal, really? Are they painting just pretty pictures, or is there something more?

Is all art beautiful? I do not find all of Picasso’s art so. In fact, a lot of art isn’t that beautiful at all. But it is considered art, nonetheless.

I’m not exactly sure. I’m still trying to figure out the significance of the murals at the Denver International Airport…

I may not know art, but I know what I like.

I’ve always assumed that the ‘joke’ in the above isn’t because it’s a well-worn cliché, it’s because ‘What you like’ is what makes it art.

I personally think Picasso’s famous works are pieces of shit. Most other people do not. So to me it is not Art.

I also think Shakespeare is overrated, and no artist at all, but I’m definitely in the minority.

I think Keith Parkinson (a Fantasy artist) is the greatest artist I have ever seen, partly because of his technical skill, partly because he ‘understands’ what he’s doing. To me, what he does is truly Art.

But my point is: Art is whatever you like.

“Vyvyan! Where did you get that Howitzer?” “…I found it.”

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I agree with Guano about Shakespeare. What a hack! Try reading Hamlet some time. All it is is a bunch of well-known quotes strung together…

Dr. F: You aren’t going fishing again, are you?

I’ve come across four different theories as to what constitutes “art.”

The first comes to us from Plato, who believed that art contained some sort of innate quality which separated it from other things, some “essence” which made it art.

The second is the idea that art reveals some sort of “truth,” or makes the viewer experience the world in some new and startling way.

The third is that what falls within the category of “art” is mainly determined by a group of “experts,” whose changing categorization is both determined by and determines the larger culture.

The fourth, and easiest to remember, is that “art” is what I am pointing at when I say the word “art.”

I don’t know that I have decided on any of these definitions–although I guess if pressed I would settle most often on the second. Of course, most of these are entirely subjective as well, with the exception of Plato, which also makes me uncomfortable.

“But may I ask, at heart, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Those seem to be the only fashionable religions left to us nowadays.”
–Oscar Wilde

Honestly, I’d go with defintion #4 as the closest to what art is. It’s all in your perception. Defintion #2 can define “good” art, perhaps. My personal defintion is “art is the perception that something is more than what it is for the purposes of aesthetics or emotional response.”

For example if you look at the paintings done by elephants in a zoo, some people think they are art and some do not. The people who think they are art must believe that the elephants meant to create something and weren’t just randomly throwing paint around and some happened to hit the paper. You have to believe that a consciousness intended to make something “more” than just paint on paper. But simple beauty won’t do; we don’t see a sunset as art (unless you believe God created it, in which case we have a conscious creator again).

Even a simple tool can have art, but only if you perceive it as possesing aspects of more than pure utility. And the Mona Lisa is just paint on canvas unless someone’s looking at it. In order for something to be art, the perceiver must believe it was created by a consciousness with an intent of at least some degree of an aesthetic or emotional response.

“Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

  • Bertrand Russell

I agree with Guano about Shakespeare. What a hack! Try reading Hamlet some time. All it is is a bunch of well-known quotes strung together

Phew, i thought you were serious for a second. What a great joke, thanks.

the best answer i’ve ever heard about what are is,came from my college poetry professor. In order to discuss what ‘is’ art, you have to incorportate what ‘isn’t’ art.

Our example will consist of penthouse vs michelangelo. They both have nude figures, why is one art and the other isn’t? Art has a quality which is debatable. penthouse is only there to form one emotion. michelangelo has many debatable aspects, the quality of the work, the inspiration, the use of the medium, etc. That is why art doesn’t have to please everybody. like the turd virgin mary. some people didn’t like it, but many of it’s aspects were debatable.

All this science, I don’t understand. It’s just my job 5 days a week-- Rocketman

Going back to my art history class, we tried hard to give a definition to art.

We started with “caveman era” drawings and worked our way up to contemporary media (pre computer graphics)

What I determined is, art is a means of communication by the creator of that specific drawing, sculpture, song or whatever.

Some communications may not be appropriate, and therefore can not be called art in the classical sense, but could be considered as such if my definition is closer to the truth.

Many of us see those ancient drawings of long ago and call it art, when in fact those people were communicating a story of a hunt or other story that they wanted to remember. So again, I think “art” is communicating something to the world that that specific human needs to be told.

opinion - a belief held often without positive knowledge or proof.

oppress - to burden harshly, unjustly, or tyrannically.

don’t oppress my ability to have an opinion

Oh, and another thought.

Although I find Andy Worhol’s “art” as elementary I wonder if he was communicating to us what we are living today. It’s all about having a brand name.

Either that or he was deeply troubled by giant Cambell’s soup cans chasing him in some dream.

Any other ideas? He didn’t communicate anything to me. If I want to see a soup can I can open up my own cabinet.

opinion - a belief held often without positive knowledge or proof.

oppress - to burden harshly, unjustly, or tyrannically.

don’t oppress my ability to have an opinion

Gaudere: While I see your point about a “consciousness” being involved, I think that context has at least as much to do with it. Case in point: Duchamp’s “In Advance of the Broken Arm.” This piece is a snow shovel that Duchamp simply found in a hardware store. He didn’t make it, didn’t have anything to do with its creation as a material object. However, by placing it within a certain context–that is, by titling it and putting it on display–his consciousness did transfrom it into what many consider to be an object of art. The context is what made it different from any of the probably thousands of identical snow shovels out there.

I think that what he did by the context is make you aware that it was created by a consciousness. His placement of the shovel and the fact that it was put “on display” as a work of art made you look at it and try to figure out what he meant by it. Now, if a worker had just left a shovel in the exact same place, it would not be art…unless you thought the worker had placed it there to achieve an aesthetic or emotive purpose. I believe the context of art is used to create a perception that it was created consciously, not accidentally.

“Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

  • Bertrand Russell

Gaudere: You are eloquent, but I think I have two problems with this.

A) Who is to say that the original assembler of the snow shovel (which may have been a machine) or even the original designer, intended to create art at all? Is Duchamp in this case really revealing the consciousness of the original creator by changing the context of the piece, or is he really creating the art himself by the placement in the new context?

B)What if the piece he had found had not been created by anyone? i.e. a piece of driftwood or the elephant art you mentioned earlier. There is no consciousness involved in the creation of either (okay, you could argue with me over the elephants (or someone could), but this is certainly true of the driftwood), until they are placed within the context.

I might even give a third example–a cabinet maker creates a cabinet that she thinks of as a work of art, then has others copy it exactly to the last detail and put them on sale in furniture stores. Is the original still art? If so, are the copies? Or does it depend on the context that each of them might be seen in?

Gaudere: Taking another look at your reply after posting, I think I was being a bit narrow in interpreting how you were defining “created”–to me, the very act of placing the artifact in a certain context makes it art.

Or does it? I think your example of the shovel placed by the worker is interesting because it places the burden of reading the context more upon the shoulders of the audience–it is their belief or interpretation which creates the context. Does this mean that the audience is in fact who creates the “consciousness” that you are talking about, by seeing the object in a new way?

The only time I say something isn’t art (when it’s suppossed to be) is when the artist ipself tries to explain the context to you. If someone placed a shovel there, and say, hey look i created art. then i ignore. however, i do think it’s ok to stick the shovel there, red-velvet rope it off, and step back to observe.

All this science, I don’t understand. It’s just my job 5 days a week-- Rocketman

I can see this developing into one of the sillier great debates: “it’s the context, jerkoff!” “the consciousness causes the context, buttmunch!” :smiley:

Well, let me see. It doesn’t matter if the original maker intended to make art. What matters is that you perceive it to be created by a consciousness for an aesthetic or emotive purpose. For example, take a piece of paper with paint splattered on it. If you think the paint splatters are accidental, you don’t think it’s art. If you think that the paint splatters were done on purpose you see it as art. If the paint splatters were accidental but a consciousness thought they could serve the purpose of acquiring a response from others, and therefore tried to make other people see it as art by framing it–it is art. But this is only due to the decision of a consciousness that the paint splatters could evoke a response and to use them to do so, and your perception that such a decision had been made. This decision creates the art by ensuring your response; the paint on paper itself is not art. “Creating” art need not be making an object or a painting; you can create art by simply making people see something as art. So the driftwood, shovel, etc. are art if you believe a consciousness intended to portray them as such.

There are certain conventions we observe when determining whether something is art. For example, something in a museum with a placard is assumed to be art. A painting done on canvas with a frame is assumed to be art. What I am arguing is that all that these conventions do is make us aware that someone else intends them to be art; therefore we assume that there is a consciousness that decided the object was art for a purpose.

Art is only a perception that something was created for an aesthetic or emotive purpose, that it was intended to be art. Your perception of art is not dependent on whether there is in fact a creator, or whether the creator intended to create art…only that you believe they did.

“Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

  • Bertrand Russell

Yes, the audience makes the art, in a way, by perceiving it; all the artist can do is try to make sure people see it as art by various means, putting it in a frame and gving it a placard, doing a painting that actually looks like something, etc. That’s why abstract artists don’t just throw their canvases on the floor; people would think they were drop-cloths. :wink: The artist knows it is intended to be art, so it is art to him/her; s/he must then make sure everybody else sees it as art too.

So, I guess we actually agree then, butmunch! :slight_smile:

I actually love talking about stuff like this–the academic background I guess. I’m always surprised when people don’t like to discuss questions like this–I taught a freshman focus class last year that was supposed to focus on the arts and had a very dispiriting class discussion on the same subject. Most of the class stuck with a bastardized version of the last def. I gave–i.e. art is what I like. Entirely subjective in an unexamined sort of way. Ah, well…

Last time I talked about the defintion of art was over yards of guinness at a bar. I drank seven feet of beer that night but I think my defintion held up the best. :slight_smile: I guess my definition is subjective in an examined way.

I just saw your homepage. A fellow Elnet user, huh? I’ve been using Elnet since Dan set it up the the old Elburn schoolhouse.