Friday, February 15, 2008

What is art?

Yesterday's discussion really had me thinking about what people perceive as art. The Tate purchased something I personally wouldn't consider art, however, they're the Tate so I guess they have more authority.

Take a look at this. The museum spent in excess of 20 000 pounds on Merda d'artista, tin cans filled with the artist's excrement.

Here, in an article titled Excremental Value, they go on to say how it's seventy times worth its weight in gold! As irony would have it, it was found out that it WASN'T the artist's excrement, but just plaster.

So really... What is art? ;)


Ghost Writer said...

What is art? That is a big question and one which I hesitate to try to answer. Actually I’ve been thinking about it all day but as I am an art historian why is it such a problem? It is a problem because there are a thousand different answers. It is a problem because to even attempt to give a definitive answer is to pin art down, which goes against its very nature. For art is, above all, about opening things up, about questioning. Art provides a space (a conceptual space), a little aside if you like from our daily lives, within which we can ponder bigger questions and look at things in a new way. I don’t think art solves the world’s problems, not usually anyway. What it does do is to make us question, force us to reconsider and to think about what the answers might be. In encountering art I believe we have the opportunity to get to know ourselves and each other better. Art is not only about the paintings we see in the National Gallery or the sculpture in the V&A. Works like Manzonni’s which you mention are just as valid. Why? Because they question art itself. It is not ironic that the tins of shit fetched large sums of money and were perhaps not even what they claimed to be. Indeed that was the whole point. Manzonni’s work was an institutional critique, a stab at the art market, and it worked beautifully because we are still talking about forty years after it was made. Aesthetics come in all shapes and sizes too, not just what we might call a ‘conventional’ aesthetic – what is ‘beautiful’, and what does beautiful mean anyway? My own work concerns a psychoanalytic aesthetic, then there was a modernist aesthetic 50 years ago followed by a minimalist aesthetic and relational aesthetics are important in art currently. And so it goes on. Art changes just as the world changes and, dare I say, just as medicine changes. I am sure that you perform procedures today that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. New procedures (and new art) always seem radical and strange when they are new. Very quickly however it becomes the norm and even newer procedures (and art) are developed and created. Tracey Emin was the bad girl of Brit Art and discussions were heated about ‘that bed’ when it first appeared. Now Tracy is establishment and even has her own room in Tate Britain. Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth at Tate Modern is another case in point. Is a crack in the floor art? Well in this case yes it is. If you’ve seen it or read about it you’ll know why. It raises afresh some important questions about racism (as well as other issues) and it does it in a simple but effective way. When I went to see it there were people standing either side holding hands across the crack in the floor. Gallery goers caught each other’s eyes, laughed, spoke to each other even. The significance of these ‘hands-across the divide’ acts may have been lost on some visitors but I think most understood exactly what Salcedo was saying and, hopefully, took that back with them into their daily lives. The new Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia exhibition starting next week at Tate Modern isn’t a bad place to start thinking about the short but very complex question you pose. These guys were really pushing the boundaries in their day and the work remains pivotal to art historical developments. There are no fixed answers as I said which is perhaps what makes it so exciting. Good art is elusive, its provocative and it sets us thinking. Can anything be art? Yes, but it isn’t necessarily so. No answers, only questions and that’s the beauty of it.

Ghost Writer said...

Something else to ponder when it comes to art:-

"Yet perception has a history; it changes during our life and even within a very short span of time; more important, perception has a different structure on different levels of mental life and varies according to which level is stimulated at one particular time." Anton Ehrenzweig

"The past of mankind, and the animal kingdoms, too, mustnow be viewed in the light of the experience of Hiroshima and no longer from the portholes of the Beagle." Immanuel Velikovsy

Delirious Couture said...

Art means different things to different people. We can use objective criteria to discuss, criticise and come to our own conclusions about the subject matter but ultimately art and our perception of it is utterly subjective and a result of our own personal experiences. My story is not the same as your story, and my solution is not the same as your solution.

Further to this, art is multitiered and layered. We can take it at face value or appreciate its aesthetic qualities, and to a few perhaps it does not go beyond this. At its core - I'm with the previous poster on this - it is about provoking thought, expressing ideas and experiences, critiquing and forming common ties with others, though it can also be just as divisive. Different pieces of work will appeal to different people - case in point Rothko, whose work some loathed and yet others loved passionately. But such is the beauty of art. It produces an open forum for each of us to express and voice our opinions based on the scope and depth of life we bring to the table, forming a three-dimensional kaleidoscope of exploration of all things human.

Couldn't you say the same thing about literature? About dance, design and music? Well, yes. But each of these share very common traits and ultimately are expressions of the same desire to communicate. Art is merely one facet in this myriad situation - but what a situation.

Giskin said...

There is a discussion going on here about whether video games should not be taken seriously as art.