Thursday, October 13, 2005


Yesterday I spent about four hours discussing different issues with six other people, the oldest was in his later 60s, and the youngest in her early 20s. One thing just led to another, you know how it goes.

We started off talking about a horrendous case where an 11-year-old-boy was turned into a sex slave to six other boys aged 12-16. We tried to understand the seemingly increasing numbers of these cases, so we discussed education and parental ability to control over internet/TV. This led us to discuss the effectiveness of tough laws as a deterrent effect, which led us in turn to Singapore and corporeal punishment.

And so the conversation continued with different views expressed until we reached the subject of art, and more specifically - what is art?
Before I continue telling the rest of the discussion and what we finally agreed on, or what I agreed on, I want to digress, because not too long ago in my post about my
poet friends we started discussing what is art right here.

Pat Kirby said:
I respect any art form (except maybe freaky modern art where a guy puts a toilet seat in a corner and calls it Man's Frustration or something equally un-pithy).
In response to my question if the example she gave was for real, she replied:
I think I saw the toilet seat thing, looong ago, in Newsweek article about an art exhibition. I think art is the manipulation of one thing into...I dunno, something else. The idea that someone can "artfully" (ha) array toilets or other furnishings, affix some philosophical significance to the arrangement and call it art...offends me.

Lee Carlon also had something to say about the subject (in reply to my complaint about extreme abstract art):
As for the art thing, it's how you arrange the triangle and the square in relation to each other that counts.

Done right, and with the correct understanding of colour, light, shading and composition, a simple triangle and a square could represent man's continuing struggle to dominate his environment and attempts to come to terms with his own human-ness, coupled with the...

No I'm sorry, you're right. It's nonsense.

There were other great comments there especially from Eric.

I agreed with what was said above; I simply refuse to accept everything and anything that someone calls art as art.

And so back to my great conversation from yesterday. We mentioned how fashion can affect art or what is perceived as art and aesthetics. We mentioned how skillful street portrait painters aren't necessarily artists despite their high skill level. We mentioned how the context matters - Once "something" is in a museum it becomes art.

We tried to get to a definition we were comfortable with and here is what we agreed on:
Art is something made by a human with intent behind it and that follows certain rules of aesthetics. It has to be combine skill and creativity.

Two things follow from this:
1) What is aesthetics?
2) A skillful artist who knows the rules can break them and create something very artistic. In the manner of Picasso's examinations of paintings, or a good author who breaks grammar rules intentionally.

I realize I'm opening a can of worms here, but - opinions?

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redchurch said...

I tend to have this dicussion a lot over the years with fellow game developers. A lot of bad games are released, yet the creators think they're works of art. Just because they made them.

I think it's two things:

1) Intention

2) Storytelling

1 - What is the point? What is the creator trying to do? A toilet in a corner labeled as art doesn't tell me anything. I can't see any intention on the part of the creator except maybe to be a smartass.

2 - If all forms of art or creation are communicative, then what is the piece saying? Again, a toilet in the corner isn't saying much.

When it comes down to the basics of communication, most things people try to pass of as art aren't really saying anything at all.

It's actually a big peeve of mine with this whole post-modern movement. It's rife with nihilism and that having a subject of nothing is as good as having a good subject.

Whenever I discuss this subject, I'm always reminded of the Smiths song Hang the DJ for this quote:

"Hang the blessed DJ, Because the music that they constantly play
it says nothing to me about my life"

A good many of us feel that way about much of this so-called 'art', no?

Melly said...

Hang the DJ - what a great example. (Now the song is stuck in my head and I'm humming it as I type this).

It's interesting that you chose to concentrate on the intention part. I did too, but the aesthetics part is critical to art in my opinion as well.

Even if I take Dadaism, for example, artists who tried to break the norms of aesthetics, I find a few things: 1. they first learnt "conventional" art and knew all the rules 2. they had a very specific intent with relation to breaking these rules 3. they created their own set of rules and aesthetics.

I may sound like a bit of a snob, but I believe that most of us can tell when something art and when something is simply pretty (like the countless digital photos of flowers). And in that sense I fully agree with you - a pretty thing turns into art when it has intent, says something.

Pat Kirby said... a partial progenitor of all this...

I have no idea what Dadaism is...or frankly, nihilism. Yes, I'm a dumbass, the great unwashed, etc.

I'm a cartoonist; husband fashions things from metal. No labels, just fun.

But, I think you hit it on the head, Melly. I think in most human beings there is something that allows us to recognize intuitively what is art.

We're a wonderfully varied species though, and one would expect a corresponding variation in the definition of art.

Melly said...

Thanks, Pat.

It's okay, in my "previous life" I enjoyed researching about art and different philosophy trends, still do actually and the internet is such a wonderful tool.

Digressing again.

Yes, variations exist, but I think that we can still appreciate a different culture's art for example and see its artistic merits while crap is crap is crap.

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's it I'll call myself an artful writer and be done with it, that will excuse my errors. lol.

There's a lot of art out there that isn't art at all, even though the majority would jump on the band wagon and say it is just to appear as if they know something the rest of us lesser beings don't.

Melly said...

But Easywriter you are an artful writer.

Lee Carlon said...

I think we need to be careful claiming that something isn't art just because we don't appreciate it, or even understand it, to some people it might very well be art, of course that doesn't mean we shouldn't have our opinions about its worth.

Having said that I've been to a couple of museums and seen a lot of art, my wife dragged me around about a hundred of them in Europe a couple of years ago, and the only piece of art that has ever really spoken to me or affected me in any way is Michelangelo's David.

Perhaps that makes me an soulless uncultured dunderhead, but that's how it is.

Back to your question though;

I think art is anything that makes it's creators heart sing. This is probably just me, but I think the creation of art is far more important than the appreciation of art.

melly said...


Yes, careful we must be and at least I know I am. I can see some surrealism art, or some "good" abstract art and see the artistic merits despite not liking it, but only to a point. Taking a 4-year-old painting and calling it art isn't something I'd agree with. Same with books. While I might read many wihtout identifying them as art (HP for example), I would identify others as art (so far Oryx and Crake is getting into that category).
Maybe you simply don't like visual art. It happens...

As for your other point, I must disagree. Art is the product, not the process. The appreciation is what makes art art. A good book leaves something changed in you (the reader, the appreciator) - that's art. Wouldn't you agree?

Lee Carlon said...

Hmm, I dunno. You're swaying me.

Maybe I just have a greater appreciation for the process than the product. Once a piece of art is finished all your left with is the end result, when your working on it you have all the possibilities of what it could be, and the time and energy you're yet to spend on it.

I understand that the finished product has a great capacity to affect more people than the process, after all only the artist(s) are affected by the process, but anybody who views the finished product could potentially be affected by it, but some part of me thinks that I (personally) get more out of creating something than looking at something somebody else has created, and of course that's not to say that I think what I've done is better than what somebody else has, or that I can't learn from others, or that I don't enjoy other people's work, quite the opposite.

hmm, and after all that I'm still not sure.

I've probably only read a handful of books that have changed my way of thinking or make me look at the world in a different way, and I agree that is the power of art.

lol! I think I should stop now.

Phillip Conrad said...

In my opinion, art is anything that captures well the human condition, or essence thereof, employing, at minimum, at least one of the senses, which can then be transmitted to at least one other human being who interprets it in such a way as to rouse an emotive sensation of some kind.

ObilonKenobi said...

As an artist I must say that art is anything that moves you. Makes you think. Makes you feel good. Challanges conventional wisdon or even celebrates conventional wisdom. Art is a wide open area of conversation or a narrow minded point of view. Aesthetics are just facets or quality of anything be it a painting, a building or a car that appeals to a group of people. Aesthetics tends to be dictated by a group while art is sometimes personal. A feeling that people may share but is not necessarily the same for each person. Aesthetics seems to have a basis on science while art is more spiritual, soulfull.

As a former employee of a Modern Art magazine i saw a lot (a lot) of crap. Lots of lazy art that I felt let the artist off the hook too easily. The stereotypical artist who makes art that "nobody understands but real artists and critics" is alive and well. Believe me. If it offends it was all the more better. Some people have a point of view that art is anyhting that is different or that puts people off because they think that that is the equivelant of making you "think." I don't agree. The wholesale desicration of someone else's symbols for no other reason than personal revenge is NOT making a person think. It's mudslinging of the worst kind. You can put someone else's symbols into your paintings or sculpture or movie or anything else and comment or crticize it but to desecrate. It crosses lines set down by civilization. Art is not war. Art is not politics. Art is not society. Art is Art. Art is in itself a whole thing. It can say anythign you want but when used as a weapon it ceases to be art and becomes communication.Art communicates but it is not comunication. Art cannot heal. Art is not more important than human life. Art has a place. Anywhere it can be seen. But it doesn't have to be inside a museum. A tagger or spray can drawer is an artist if he cares for the thing he creates. A filmaker is an artist if what she makes intends to impress on the viewer something more than the words and pictures. Art is always more than the sum of its parts.

As a fan of art i feel that art that doesn't make you sit there and contemplate at least for a few minutes hasn't done its job. At least my personal favorite artworks do that for me. I;ve seen art make of feces and it doesn't make me think of anything more than what it is. I've seen Picassos that I've stared at for a long time and then returned for more. Like a font I come back to it because I thirst for it again and again. It draws me to it like a magnet. I am impressd and astounded not only by the forms, figures and colors but the time it was done. The person who did it.

I guess that my opinion is mypersonal one and in my little world it fits. Others disagree with me but this is how I define what is art.

Trée said...

Hey Melly, this one is really simple. Just call me and ask "Is this art?" If I say yes, then it is. If I say no, then move on 'cause it ain't. LMAO What a silly question. You know there is no answer to this one but it sure does get the blood pumping trying to give one. ;-)

Melly said...

Lee, I totally understand you. Once you start thinking about it you can't stop and you go from thing to another.

You look at art from an artist's point of view, I look at it from a "consumer's" point of view. I, personally couldn't care less how Rembrandt painted, I care about what I see.

As a writer, again, the process can be very varied, and my experience teaches me that the end result's quality rarely depends on the process. But that's me.

Melly said...

Phillip, I like your definition, but I might add that it would depend on the emotion it evokes.
A toilet in a corner of room can rouse anger in me, piss me off, and yet it ain't art :)

Melly said...

"As a fan of art i feel that art that doesn't make you sit there and contemplate at least for a few minutes hasn't done its job." - obilonkenobi, I like this sentence a lot.

I agree with most of what you said, except, perhaps the poilitcal art part. I have to think about it some more before I form a final opinion on the matter.

I was very impressed by what you said and you really hit it close to home, I guess that coming from the sciences I always look for aesthetics. Very interesting you said that about aesthetics and science.

Melly said...

Okay, I'll be sending you stuff then, Trée. And don't you complain, you're the one who asked for it...

I can see your point about this being a silly question. However, I still think there is an answer, and I think that most of us know it somehow without being told or taught or anything.

Yes, blood pumping.

Phillip Conrad said...

Quite true. (laughs)

Thank goodness we don't manufacture toilets specifically to capture the totality of the human condition.

Very humorous.

Be well.


Teh Blog Father said...

Quite an interesting discussion going on here. I suppose the question "what is art?" is similar to one you addressed here recently "what is poetry?".

Coming from the software world, aesthetics and beauty are things I commonly think about. A close word is elegance, and we talk about the elegance of algorithms used to solve a particular problem. Some code is beautiful, and when code is described as such, it is usually not so much how it looks, but about its effect on your brain.

So what is aesthetics? I'd say (circularly I might add), that it is the very difficult art of trying to find universal determinants of beauty. Having said that, there are methods of passing off pedestrian material as art to the masses. (Some were mentioned in that Neuron Phasing series).

Melly said...

I love how you think, Eric.

And yes, I remember your neuron phasing. I still chuckle when I think of it...

Teh Blog Father said...

Melly:>I love how you think, Eric.

How do they say "thank you" in Italian again? :-)

Stranger Ken said...

There's so much good and serious comment on this thread, Melly, that I hardly dare suggest anything that might seem to smack of humour, although Oscar Wilde, who is the source of the two comments I'm about to offer, can hardly be said to have played at his art or at its relationship to his life:

1. Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.

2. A subject that is beautiful in itself gives no suggestion to the artist. It lacks imperfection.

Like Zen koans, untangling these might take a while.

Melly said...

Eric, you're welcome.

Stranger Ken, these are great quotes. Thanks.
I especially liked the second one about the imperfection (providing I understoof it, of course ;)