While speaking with a friend, I realized a statement I should’ve made in the previous post about Art (if you didn’t read it, please do!). It was about my inclusion of naturally occuring objects and phenomena (things not created by humans, like Clouds) as Art. I suppose I took the acceptance of this idea for granted. I shouldn’t have because it’s actually quite strange.
One might put a rock on a wall and proudly proclaim “ART! MAGNIFICENT!” Quickly, others would respond, “That is not art! You didn’t even make that!” Alright, but paintings aren’t much different. . . . Where did you get that paint? Where do you think the store got it? And the manufacturer? Somewhere along the line, it came from a rock or a plant or an animal. In the old days, painters made their own paints. The painter is, quite literally, taking a lot of garbage and arranging it on top of a canvas (another lot of garbage), before planting it on a wall, and calling it Art. Well, that’s not art! You didn’t even make the chemicals, you didn’t make the paint or the canvas! They all formed naturally, were thrown together in a factory and then you mixed ’em up!
So a painter might say “But in arranging those raw materials, I have created something new!” Ooh, created something new in concept though the materials themselves are as old as time itself (again, literally). Alright, but can’t the same be said about a rock stuck on a wall?
Then is it the wall or the sticking that creates art? I don’t believe it’s the wall because not all art is on a wall. I don’t believe it’s the sticking because not all art is stuck! Emily Dickinson kept her poetry locked away in secret. Was it not poetry? Did the person that discovered it say “I can make good poetry out of these written-on scraps if I just publish them in a book” and get credited as the creator instead of Dickinson? Nope, so showing it to others does not make something into art. Maybe it’s because the raw materials were arranged together by one or many humans! So if aliens arrived and painted a picture, would it not be art? Okay, not humans, but life. But what’s alive? Me? You? Apes? Insects? Robots? Rocks and wind? I’m sorry mack, but science has yet to show us a real difference between life and complex machinery. That means until some unexpected discoveries get made, we’re as much dead or alive as anything else (disallowing this discussusion to get inflated enough to involve religion–unless of course someone can prove which religions is correct!). Crediting art to life or any other such abstract idea is just postponing the discussion by shoving it into another area instead of actually facing the issue head on. No border can be drawn between the naturally occuring and the man-made without it actually being arbitrary and meaningless.
Fun Fact: the word “natural” was deemed legally undefinable and therefore any food product can be advertised as being made from “natural” ingredients. Check this wiki out to see the arbitrary nature of food’s legal distinction as “organic,” much of which allows for very artificial processing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food
Furthermore, words evolve, shifting and even reversing their definitions over time. Therefore, if people start using “art” in reference to cereal, “art” becomes synonymous with “cereal.” That is just how language works, no matter how one might dislike the process or argue against it. You may have heard of the Dada movement. Pretty much since they came around, the art world has been open to all kinds of nonsense as art. Quite literally, you can take a piece of shit, put it on a pedestal and consider it artwork.
So if the Art world is calling Dada works Art, Art’s definition takes on Dada work! This is no great philosophical leap, just the way things go, evolution of language.
While defining art I tried to look at the definitions of the past and trends of the word’s constant redefinition. It appeared to me that each era was redefining “Art” to match the latest philosophical fads in artwork. I agreed when all those trendy folks said things were art, but usually thought their arguments for what wasn’t art were weak, at best. I’ve also grown up in a world where (thanks to movements like the Dadas) everything has been called art at one time or another. We can easily say “that’s bad art” or even “I hate it and will never look at it because it is worthless,” but on what grounds do we claim a piece is indisputably not art? To me there is only one possible way for anything in existence to be called “not art.” It would require a drastic redefinition of the word “Art,” like redefining it to mean “stuff people put together,” “stuff with colors,” “stuff Rembrandt signed,” or even “cereal.” Of course, none of those would define the concept that we currently associate with the word “Art,” but simply change the word so that it refers to a different concept altogether (usually nothing more than a category). Again, this is a coward’s skirting of the issue at hand, shifting a currently valuable word into uselessness.
Like all words, “Art” represents an abstraction within the mind, and it is that abstraction that I have sought to clarify with this and my previous posts. The word itself means nothing to me. Let “Art” mean ringworm and let “ass-testicles” be used in reference to what we now call “Art.” Doesn’t change a thing. Makes art classes* a little funnier, but that’ll pass. . . .
-Christopher J. Rock