Long ago, Willem de Kooning and John Cage were sitting in one of the downtown cafeterias that New York artists used to frequent. Throwing a couple of packets of sugar on the table, Cage said, This could be art. De Koonings reply: No it couldnt.
We are not really destroying the object, but just expanding the definition, thats all, said Robert Barry. This is, in a nutshell, the whole story of the marvelous adventure that art has turned into ever since the twentieth centuryan adventure that is still going on today.
What is art? This question has been up for grabs for about a century. It is a question every artist must ask when embarking on a career. The same question must be faced by every curator, critic, collector, art dealer, and non-profit administratorindeed, every participant and observer, casual or otherwise, involved with the present cultural scene.
Its a language for establishing a dialogue with the world, especially for picture thinkers and busy-handed tinkerers. Early in life you pick up crayons and paints and different kinds of art tools and begin exploring the way you see images that resonate with your imagination.
A prominent art critic walks through a museum exhibition of photographs of homeless people. She notes that the exhibition also features paraphernalia of the homelessa sleeping bag, cardboard flats, plastic containers.
There was always plenty of talking about Art. What was this reality out there all about? I wanted to figure the world out on my own.
The only point of asking an artist for a definition of “Art” is to learn about that artist. I am not a theoretician so my definition comes from a deep inside place that is visual and is as basic as a noun and a verb.
I have two jobs right now: one is as an assistant and archivist for a highly regarded Minimalist painter, the other is as a copywriter for an online art auction site. Each provides opportunities to examine how arguments for excluding or including art are constructed, from the 1960s through to the present.
Art is about living as variously as possible. If art is, categorically, nothing more specific than whatever an artist does, the question is then “what is an artist?”
Art is what you do not knowand if you can define art, then perhaps it isnt? It is the thing that shows you the other side of the question, and through its perspective answers what had been before unanswerable.
The act of art is an act of value bestowalone allows a value to emerge (who knows its sources, its provenance?) for delectation or abhorrence or indifferencethe hazard of that.
While artists work from the real to the abstract, architects must work from the abstract to the real. While art may legitimize itself as an object or an event, architecture dissolves into a blur of buildings.
I once began a poem by asking Is art a way / of denying emptiness? I believe in some sense it is. Not in the sense of denying that emptiness exists but in denying it its power to submerge us in a vast sea of namelessness.
To even attempt a definition of art today seems almost insurmountable. But what might be more reasonable is to seek some understanding of the issues that are prevalent in our current artistic climate.
As Justice Potter Stewart once said in reference to hard-core pornography, I know it when I see it. Like pornography, art is difficult to define and can mean different things to different people.
An artist is a person who makes art, and art is what she makes. There is an unlimited number of possible responses to the question what is art? just as there is no limit to instances of what can be called art.
What is art? Useless, an empty signifier, but also the currency for global capital and high stakes gambling, of great value and interest to millions of people who wait patiently in extremely long lines, and completely irrelevant to countless others; not intimate, but spectacular, atomized, and digitized, also intimate, tactile, hand-held, close up.
When I think of art the Kwakiutl come to mind. The Kwakiutl had no word for art but art was everywhere, in all aspects of their lives. Every utilitarian object was a work of art, whether it was a grizzly bear or otter bowl, a whale spoon, or a heron fishhook.
Traditionally, questions related to the origin and nature of artspecifically in terms of defining artwere argued within the realm of aesthetics. The science of aesthetics began as a branch of philosophy in the mid-18th century and is attributed to the work of the philosopher and historian, Alexander Baumgarten.
The invention of the scientific method separated material traits from the magical, symbolic, and spiritual.
It is a good time now to consider the question “What is art?” as investment and career concerns have usurped the more profound communication traditionally found in works of Art.
The notion of what constitutes a work of art is as old as the concept of art itself. We were under the impression that we had it all figured out until the early years of the 20th century, when, adopting a pseudonym, a 29-year-old French artist submitted a commercially manufactured object to an art exhibition in New York and forced us to ask the question all over again.
On the first floor of the Metropolitan Museum, a wondrous room from Pompeii had been reconstructed. It was once possible to walk into this room. Then, it was roped off, but it could still clearly be seen.