Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Art of Art - A Search for the Definition

Over the years I have experimented with many forms of art. Invariably, I have had people say things like, "That looks really nice, but it isn't real art." For example, this piece was created by taking three different photographs, putting them together in Photoshop and applying some artistic filters. The complaints that I recieved were that I didn't create anything, all I did was put photographs together and apply filters.

So, I opened Photoshop again and I created this image. This was created entirely in Photoshop but I did not use any photographs, I simply used the software as my medium. Again I was hit with, "That looks really nice, but it isn't real art." Why? Because I didn't use physical materials. I was told that anyone can create images that look good on a computer, but not everyone can take pencil to paper or paint to canvas and come up with a work of art.

Pencil to paper! I went to work. I created these three images using graphite pencils and artist's paper. Surely no one is going to complain about this. "That looks really nice, but it isn't real art." What? What's wrong with this one? It seems that replicating an existing photograph without making any "artistic" changes to it, keeps it from being art.

Ok, so that leads to the question: what is art? What are the elements required to make something a work of art? I took a long voyage of research to come up with answers to those questions, and I found them. In fact, I found so many answers that there is no way I could possibly include them in this article. Besides that almost every single definition I found of art contradicted every one else's definition. It seems that discussing the definition of art is almost as explosive as discussing politics and religion. What a dilemma. How was I supposed to come up with a definition of art for my blog post in a situation like this?

Time for a trip to the St. Louis Art Museum. I spent a lot of time on the main floor studying the old masters. I marveled at the skill and talent that was on display. Then I went upstairs. One of the first things I ran into was the Rock Circle. Um....what happened to the skill and talent I marveled at on the main floor? This was just a pile of rocks in a circle, anyone can do this.

Then I came across Spectrum II. Well it looks really nice, but it isn't real art. I mean anyone can take canvases, paint them a solid color and then hang them all in a row....right?

Photo by Gabriel

Yeah, that's right. I had become the very person that was complaining about my own art. As far as I could tell, I was looking at things that took no skill whatsoever, it couldn't possibly be art. Yet these works were on display at one of the country's premier art museums.

I had decided that art could not be defined by skill and talent. As an artist I decided that it must simply be defined by the fact that the creator of the work declared it art. But as I looked at the world around me I came to the conclusion that there had to be a different definition. I started seeing buildings as works of art. Meals presented at restaurants, wind and water erosion, rust on old pieces of metal, the patterns of stripes on a house cat all started to appeal to my artistic senses. So, does that mean that art is in the eye of the beholder? Maybe, but that doesn't really sound right either.

Time to turn to the old standby...Wikipedia! Here is what they say about art:
Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music and literature.
Ok, so that doesn't really work for me either, but it is the closest I have found yet. I have at least learned that I was as guilty as anyone else when it comes to being an art snob and I have broadened my appreciation of art in the process. The bottom line is this, don't ever let anyone tell you that your work isn't "real art." But at the same time, if you are quick to judge what others think is art, maybe you should take another look.


Jennifer said...

Awesome! I love your take on "art"... great read.

patrick said...

New to your blog and new to art I am going to draw Tanna.
I want to understand art so my approach is can I really see what I am looking at I want to be able to look at what I have drawn and say thats pretty much what is out there.
Then I hope this will allow me to see what you artists see