Monday, May 11, 2015

Is It Time to Re-Redefine "Art"?

The Wall Street Journal's Arena section for 9 April had this article by Kelly Crow about the new home of New York City's Whitney Museum. I gather that some artists, presumably those of the Installation Art ilk, will be allowed to pound nails in floors along with other tasks while setting up their exhibits.

Which brought to mind that I'm not inclined to purposefully view any kind of Installation Art. Matter of fact, I do not consider Installation Art to be art at all. Nor most (all?) of what they call Concept Art. Nor Video Art. Nor Performance Art. Nor a whole bunch of Other Art.

I am not prepared to propose a definition of Art, probably a hopeless task. Well, actually, I will sort of propose something like a definition of art after laying a little groundwork.

Nowadays, it seems that just about anyone can proclaim himself an Artist. A few credentials such as a college degree or studio training are helpful, but not necessary: consider the case of postmodernist icon Jean-Michel Basquiat. Having proclaimed himself Artist, said Artist or a supporter proclaims that whatever he's making or doing is Art. And the Art Establishment often goes along with the gag, as it did with Basquiat.

Therefore, in today's world, anything can be Art, provided an Artist or Art Critic or Art Expert says so. The result of this is that the word Art has been rendered essentially meaningless.

My humble proposal is to reserve the word Art for what were called Fine Arts back in the late 19th century.

This might seem to rule out illustration, for example. Which would be too bad, because there are plenty of examples of 1890-1960 illustration that are as good as or better than much of what passed as Fine Art. On the other hand, if painting / graphic arts (in general, not just Academic works) is one of the Fine Arts, then many forms of illustration would qualify.

What my proposal rules out is much of what passes for Art today. I recognize that lines still have to be drawn, but that's the way the world is. For instance, surely someone would claim that Tracey Emin's Bed is actually sculpture, which it clearly isn't: It's a publicity stunt.

Setting aside that sort of quibble, the next task is to invent a name (or names) for all those newfangled non- Fine Arts that have emerged over the last century or so. Right now, I have no decent ideas, but I'll let you know if and when I do.


Anonymous said...

While I agree with you, I'm afraid you're tilting at art-mills.

Stephanie Berry said...

I agree and find much of what is claimed to be art is offensive. It reminds me of the folks standing around admiring the Emperor's New Clothes.