Oh boy does this post meander. What a mess. It's just that, well, I just got into it (again) over this. Now it was with a work mate. I must be mumbling when I explain myself in these situations, because I always hear the same shit whenever I try to discuss…
What. Is. Art?
Man, I get emotional over this. It's ridiculous.
There is aesthetic shit.
There is technically brilliant shit.
There is naturally occurring/accidental shit.
AND THEN there is artistic shit, which may involve a little of the other three.
Not all shit is artistic shit.
To begin, I would like to say that I am not interested in discussing what makes ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘offensive’, or any other variety of art. That is a total judgment call. Different strokes for different folks. But I firmly believe that there are a limited number of things/ideas/whatever which should even be up for consideration in the matter. So, again, I am not interested in defining what makes a piece of art ‘good’ or ‘bad’. No one really does.
Alrighty then. On with the unpopular topic, which I seem to discuss often.
One always ventures into dangerous territory when trying to define ‘Art’ (I will type it ‘art’ or ‘Art’ or art or Art). There are those who keep it close: “art is in the eye of the beholder”. Which sounds good, but is a complete and utter cop-out. Why, you may ask? Isn’t art really subjective and therefore up to the observer? Right? Huh? Isn’t it?
No. Absolutely not.
Because that makes EVERYTHING that has or ever will exist: art. A pimple becomes potential body art. A bird-dropping falling on the pavement becomes visual art. A punch to the face can be considered a work of performance art. And the laying of fiber-optics over the mid-oceanic ridge suddenly passes for art.
Which is fine by me, I guess. But if everything becomes art, then why the fuck are there classes on it? It's everywhere, all the fucking time, right? If it is all around us, and anything we deem to be pretty, interesting, witty, or technically difficult is suddenly available to be studied as “art”, then why should anyone care? If every footprint made as some douche-balloon staggered from a leaking urinal at Klan rally all of sudden was up for auction as ‘profound’ art, then who fucking cares about the lot of it?
Well. The truth is, the majority of the bull shit people regularly call ‘Art’ is nothing of the sort. Don’t get me wrong. There are many pretty, technically brilliant, difficult-to-do things out there. But not everything that fits into that description falls into the realm of art. Life is tough that way. Don't worry, I cried too.
Of all the things I ever seen referred to as ‘art’, I would safely say that all of it was created by either accident, a true artist, or someone with technical skill.
The accidents are just accidents. Some people try to attribute the 'accidental art' to a higher power of some sort, but then turn right around and expect a 'finder's fee' for it. What? Con artist is more like it. Get a real job and stop screwing things up for the honest, hard working artists. Dick.
An artist, in my mind, is something (maybe something non-human?) that is capable and willing to take in their environment, their existence, an experience, into themselves. Then process it and return it to the world as a unique interpretation, communication, image, whatever. Technical skill can help the artist to achieve their goal, or make their art more aesthetically pleasing.
Someone with technical skill (but no artistic bend to match) is someone who has studied a particular technique or technique set to the point of mastery. But the technique has always been someone else’s, and it has never been used in an artistic way. I always view their works as very aesthetic, or amazingly difficult to do, but not necessarily artistic. There are many, many brilliant painters in the world who fall into this category. They paint wonderful landscapes or life-like portraits using the mastered techniques taught to them in school or by mentors. But for all their technical skill, they are just following directions. No matter how good they are at following directions, they are not doing anything artistic. For every painting artist in the world, I would estimate that there are 1 million painters. Hell, I’ve painted some no-concept shit in my day. I love a perfect photo-esque portrait as much as the next guy, but I like it for the technical skill and aesthetic properties. It is not art to me. No concept.
Ah yes, Concept. A great standard for judgment. Good times.
At an art show. Guy standing next to a brass sculpture of a cube with holes cut out like Swiss cheese. You think it looks cool (aesthetically pleasing), and it seems like crafting metals in such a way would be difficult (technically brilliant).
So you ask, “what is this all about?”
He answers, “well, I don’t really know. I just kind of did it on my driveway. I mean, I just found this big block in my dad’s garage, and started fucking around with a drill. My neighbor was all ‘that’s art’ and I was all ‘word?’ and he was like ‘dude, yes, put it in a show or some shit,’ so here I am. Art.”
Hm. Or, how about:
He answers, “well, what I was trying to say was that, like, when I’m really fucking angry, I see my problem as like this big-ass cube in my brain, and I have to pilot holes through it so I can get it all weak and shit. Then I can see through my problems, the big cubes, floating in my brain. You know what I mean?”
Now, you may not like the concept, but it’s there. Furthermore, the second dude could be completely bullshitting you, telling you the concept existed BEFORE the piece, when in fact he just made that shit up on the spot. But his interpretation is still there, and it is still a concept (post construction concept, so I would find it really weak). If you find that weak, and you don’t trust the artist, then punch him in the mouth. Or don’t. Whatever.
Regardless, we need standards for something as subjective as ‘art’. Concept is the only real standard I use when I deem something to be either Art, NOT Art, or “I don’t really know, it depends.” (for my previous example: first dude = NOT Art as it is more of an accident. Second dude = “I don’t really know” as I would need to see more of his pieces to confirm he is capable of conceptualizing beyond great lies.)
Concept is key. There has to be some kind of idea behind the thing. Accidents are NOT art. Give that up. Stop stressing that shit on me. Some dude is making dinner and drops a dollup of corn chowder onto the recipe sheet and it ends up looking like a skull and crossbones is interesting, but not fucking art. There was no idea, no effort, and no use of innovative technique involved. Nothing. It is as artistic as stepping on a rusty nail, farting while sneezing, or getting t-boned by a Camaro on your way to work. All interesting, all accidental, none of it: art. Go cancel all those ebay bids on that Virgin Mary sammich 'art'.
So. To begin, there needs to be something behind the piece (painting, sculpture, statement, song, whatever). The point can be as definite as “This is what it felt like the first time I got kicked in the balls” down to as vague as “I set up a scenario for myself: dark room, fifty bud lights, two joints, and a strobe. I played my guitar after that to see what I would end up channeling.” Or, “I wanted to have a conversation with your feet using this French horn.” Granted, you may not appreciate the concept, but at least there is a concept present (again, I am not judging quality here). Let me toss out an obvious example.
What is the difference between a pile of dog shit and a pile of dog shit which has been fashioned into the shape of a horse?
Concept. Dog food is said to contain much horse meat. From horse to dog to horse, hello, we have a shitty concept. The dog shit, by itself, has no concept.
What is the difference between a Dali original and a really good (numbered, limited) lithograph of the same? This is where my coworker and I found deep disagreement.
Conceptual technique. The original work contains brilliant and never-seen-before-it-arrived technique. The strokes are the work of a genius in his medium, his texturing through repeated fine-stroked layering of paints was part of the concept, recreating the images in his mind on to canvass. You can’t fuck with his combination of original and well-learned technique.
And the overriding Concept. His concepts were rich and completely unique. He chose to use paints to say something specific, express an emotion, or tell a childhood story. He enlisted his mastery of the technique to fulfill a deeply intelligent concept. He was explaining his goddamn dreams to us.
So what about the lithographer?
The lithograph has neither of those things. Lithographs are old hat (however, the FIRST lithograph ever made might be considered art because the innovative technique itself may have been artistic by design). You don’t need much skill to produce them. Just the equipment, which is lame. And the shoddy Concept of the lithograph is not the original intent of the work. It is to MAKE MORE MONEY by churning out copies of the original (however high quality they may be). Making more money = non-artistic concept = not art.
Now I don’t want to confuse technical skill with artistry. There is a difference. There are Artisans, and there are Artists. Here is where I disagree with the dictionary.
Artisan: A skilled manual worker; a craftsperson.
Artist: One, such as a painter, sculptor, or writer, who is able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value, especially in the fine arts.
This is a very broad definition, contrary to the naming of “painter, sculptor, or writer”. It must be narrowed to avoid confusion. The half-wit cousin of the guy you contracted to paint your house (the colors you chose), who did a fantastic job, did not create a work of art.
It may be aesthetically pleasing, the colors may be of a very creative or interesting combination, and you may love your house’s new paint job a great deal, but face it. It ain’t art, so let it go. ‘Silly’ is not a concept. Neither is ‘Gothic Temptress of the Night’ paint scheme. The concept was to have an aesthetically pleasing house, just like every other house in existence. To what degree you may find yours, or others homes aesthetically pleasing may vary. But it won’t change the zero-level of artistry involved.
If you lived in Tikrit, and you painted your crib like a big target-bulls-eye, as a political statement, then I would say there was some art happening there. But okra paneling with Ralph Lauren’s newest version of ash-felt grey trim, while very attractive and perhaps even perfect in execution, says nothing. And you meant nothing when you chose it, so just drop it.
This brings me back to my own little categorization/classification system. Sure, it may seem cold and insensitive to try and grade things as ‘art’ or ‘you gots to be kiddin’ me’, but that’s how I choose to roll. And here is where I want to test it.
No doubt I may have said something you deeply disagree with here, and I am tired of having this discussion with people. So I am out to prove or disprove its worth.
All things will fit into one of the following categories:
There is aesthetic shit.
There is technically brilliant shit.
There is naturally occurring/accidental shit.
AND THEN there is artistic shit.
Again, there is a tad of bleed-over between these categories (some things, such as flowers, are both naturally occurring AND aesthetically pleasing, but not art. While the many works done by Picasso during his Blue Period are both aesthetic AND artistic. You get my point.)
Very few things fall into the category of artistic. Feel free to try me. I’m hoping to sharpen and tighten this discussion up.
Word to art.