Thursday, January 15, 2009

What is art?

I've been struggling to write a blog post defining art. I want to define art in order to provide at least a personal vocabulary for my posts here. Yet as I write, I can't pin down a solid definition. I begin arguing that art must have a well defined message and context. Without the message then art becomes a banal sort of "anything anyone creates."

With this conviction I debate a coworker of mine. He's into making film on his free time so naturally, I want to know his opinion. He suggests everything is art. Even things not intended as art can be art to the individual.

I let out a frustrated sigh.

"Yeah, I'm one of THOSE people, right?" he suggests.

I counter by arguing that art needs meaning to avoid being pointless. He argues that meaning depends on the the individual. Then it hits me. I've been writing about personal experiences with all these games. And it's impossible to know whether the creators intended for their audience to have such experiences. So my coworker has a point. And so my search continues. What do you think?


Rama said...

Haha. Exactly. Thats what I keep saying. My apartment is filled with art, you just cannot see it.

Taylor said...

Art is really up to the individual to understand. But ultimately, I feel that "art" has to touch you in a way. Maybe not profoundly. The creator will usually envision some kind of "feeling" for the piece to have, but the interpretation on the other end can sometimes change or misinterpret that, but still be important/significant to that individual.

A good example of misinterpretation: Ed Vedder wrote the song "Alive" about his personal painful experience about not knowing his biological dad, only to find out about it after his true father's death. However, fans recognized the song to be something about him finding strength -- and rather than saying "I'm still alive" sarcastically/negatively, it's almost a tribute to the existence of his dad and his continued power to survive. "I'm still alive" interpreted in an optimistic tone. The meaning for Vedder even changed after this and he thanks his fans for the redirection.

Also, you can consider someone painting a portrait of their deceased mom as a tribute to her -- and family members will see how they portrayed her (vibrant colors may depict a good image of a loving/kind/vibrant woman; cold colors may depict an estranged/distant/poor relationship) and reflect. Others may not understand it, but think, "Wow, they painted a picture of their mother... How do I view my mother? How will my children view me in time?" That kind of thing.

Ultimately, anything could be art -- but I think it's up to the individual how to interpret something -- arguably, anything that makes you feel a certain way could be considered art to some degree.

Sam said...

To quote Arthur Danto:

"Nothing is an artwork without an interpretation that constitutes it as such."

I think anything can be art, given a certain time and context. The artist must create something that the audience can grasp based on that certain time and context.

Taylor makes a good point about the interpretation of art. Art may be understood by understanding the artist. However, understanding the artist should not be a game of rediscovering the artist. Otherwise, an interpretation will be too focused on details of an artist's background instead of the piece of art at face value.

In the end, I agree with the "open door" policy with art, so along as it invokes a valid interpretation given the context. The only weakness with this policy is defining how well a work of art conveys its message to the audience. There is good art and bad art. The trick is properly identifying the methods a piece communicates its message.

Norman said...

christina: oh yeah there is def. a lot of questionable art in the galleries.
Do you remember that time we went with mike? Such weird stuff.
me: Menil? lol
christina: That you can't question because then you're not smart enough or sophisticated enough to "get it."
me: We're all well aware of the crap.
christina: but where's the line between crap and not?
It must intend to convey something to you
christina: then is a stop sign art?
me: damnit!!!