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Thread: What isn't "art?"

  1. #1

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    What isn't "art?"

    A couple of years ago I had a student who had fled Julliard and joined the Navy, which is how he ended up in my night class at a naval air station in the middle of Nowhere, CA. He was an interesting fellow and during a unit on art, he came up with a definition which I thought was pretty neat and certainly well thought out. Unfortunately I forgot his definition, but I was reminded of him the last time my informal coffee house philosphy group met. We've been slogging through the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas for the last six months and are nowhere near the end of the tunnel. Fascinating stuff, really---but what reminded me of that young sailor was Aquinas' accepting that some things cannot be defined other than by defining what something is not(God, in the Summa) and how, I'm wondering, that maybe that can be a way of defining "art"---by defining what it is "not" instead of attempting to define what it "is." The reason for my curiosity about this comes from what I've discovered about my own enjoyment of a photograph and how it is not really based on "creativity" but rather a recording of a time past. Even with most of the abstracts I've enjoyed looking at, I find that what makes for a "successful" image(to my mind, anyway) is not the result of some contrivance, but rather from some acute observation of some detail---record if you will---of some "thing" that had been photographed(past tense) This seems to me to be the opposite of what many espouse in those dreaded "artist's statements" I keep seeing at exhibitions.

    OK theres got to be a bunch of art institute graduates ready to jump on me for asking this, but here it goes anyway: Can you give me a definition for what "isn't" Art? At least from the photographic standpoint so as not to be too OT?
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.

  2. #2
    Robert A. Zeichner's Avatar
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    What isn't "art?"

    I don't think it's so much a question of whether or not a reproduction of an original is art, because many originals could never see the light of day and enjoyed by many if they weren't reproduced in some way. A good sound recording of a brilliant rendition of a great piece of music doesn't make it any less art than listening to a live performance. It maybe doesn't have the same visceral impact or sentimental meaning for the listener who was lucky enough to attend the concert, but it still retains the creative greatness of all of the contributors. As far as Mr. Kincade is concerned, the thing I was implying was formulaeic about his work is that they all look pretty much the same. He's a one-trick pony. You've seen one, you've seen them all and in my opinion, none are very good. While a reproduction poster of of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" might seem (to some) to be a cheesy thing to hang on the wall, it is still a representation of a way of seeing that was unique to the artist and therefore conveys some amount of his genius. The same might be said for a well printed calendar of Ansel's work or Weston's or whoever. As far as multiple prints from a digital file or a negative are concerned, if the artist made these or closely supervised their making and signed each one, that should really only affect their monetary value, not their intrinsic value as art. These are not reproductions in the same way a poster or calendar (or offset reproductions, dabbed with specks of paint by a stranger in any of 100 cities) are. Each one is the equal to the original one, just like a serograph or a lithograph. Number them, sign them and sell them as originals. When the edition is gone, on to the next. Once again, another opinion.

  3. #3

    What isn't "art?"

    To ask, "What is art?" is to ask, "What is man?"

    We will ever ask both questions.

  4. #4

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    What isn't "art?"

    what is art?
    What is God?
    Why are we in this world ?
    These are questions whose answers resemble the action to catch eels.
    Once we think we have them in our hand , they slip away.
    Once we think we have the answer , out of the blue other answers appear in our mind,equally seemingly valid.

  5. #5

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    What isn't "art?"

    Art is defined by itself. Art is that which is produced to be art.

    If you accidentally drop a plate of spaghetti on the flag, it is not art. If you drop it purposefully to create art, it is art. Maybe not good art, maybe not profound art, but art. If you walk down the street and see a flag that someone else accidentally dropped a plate of spaghetti on and you pick it up and put it in a gallery, it becomes found art.

    If someone else had bought the shovel, it wouldn't have been DuChamp's art... until DuChamp told someone else to do it. Then that person would have been part of DuCamp's artistic process.

    A book of photographs is art if the photographer intended it to be. It may be mass-produced, non-unique art, but it's still art. An original signed print may be more valuable art, but both are still art.

    Your life can be art, if you decide to make it that.

    I've known a lot of people who produced art, but very few I've considered artists.

    On the other hand, there's the definition of the pressman: if it ain't text, it's art.
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  6. #6
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    What isn't "art?"

    "If you accidentally drop a plate of spaghetti on the flag, it is not art. If you drop it purposefully to create art, it is art. Maybe not good art, maybe not profound art, but art. If you walk down the street and see a flag that someone else accidentally dropped a plate of spaghetti on and you pick it up and put it in a gallery, it becomes found art."

    However, there's a long-standing tradition of found art. Which is, something not originally intended to be art, but seen by someone as having artistic potential, and made art through recontextualizing. So what about that Duchamps shovel? It was made by someone else, not as art. All he did was give it a new context. Which is to say, he asked us to look at it, to judge it, to ponder it, AS art. Another example: what about all the photographs by the ubiquitous "anon." that John Szarkowski curated into the collection at MoMA? In a sense he was doing the same thing, although in a more modest way, since he was not claiming authorship.

    Again, determining what is art, at least at this point in time with the entire 20th century behind us, is quite easy. Anything defined as art through context, either by its maker, its viewer, or by someone else, is art. This opens it to beeing seen as art, and therefore to being judged as art, which, as in the case of your spaghetti-soaked flag, not necesarily a good thing. The real question, the real can of worms, lies in what we do when we judge something as art. What standards do we bring to it? THIS is the topic worthy of fistfights. But the what is/isn't art issue is long obsolete.

  7. #7
    aleatorist David R Munson's Avatar
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    What isn't "art?"



    To me:



    Art is not what is not felt.<br />
    Art is not a matter of what other people tell me is or is not art.<br />
    Art is not anything that can be nailed down.



    To you: <br />
    (That's your decision)


  8. #8

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    What isn't "art?"

    Paulr-

    The question is not what is art; that's like asking what is food. A rancid can of Alpo is food if you eat it. It's just as much food as a fine filet mignon or an expertly smoked rack of ribs. But just because it's defined as food doesn't mean it doesn't suck as food.

    The crappiest piece of art ever made is still art. It's just the crappiest piece of art ever made. When we bring the standards in, we start discussing the quality, content, craft, concept, controversy, pedigree, tradition, innovation... so many things, (even the status of monetary value for many, if not most, collectors.)

    There's the source of the fistfights; I swear some of the art I see competes with that rancid can of Alpo for which sucks the most...

    Then again, I like the quote of one critic, when asked whether some strange thing was art, when he replied, "well, it isn't not art..."
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  9. #9
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    What isn't "art?"

    Mark, you're reiterating exactly what I've been saying.

    The reason this issue confuses so many people is that the definitions of art have gone through several revisions since classical times, but have never managed a clean break--so what we think art is tends to carry baggage from definitions that are 150 years old, 250 years old, 400 years old, and 2000 years old. Many of these definitions are incompatible with each other, and have as much to do with shifts in culture, philosophy, and language as they have to do with art itself.

    At any rate, it's very problematic to have a definition of something that has a level of quality built into it. A defintion should have to do with innate characteristics. A bad chair, one that's ugly and uncomfortable, is still a chair. A great chair is also still a chair; it does not magically become "art" by being great. A wooden crate can become a chair--not by being an especially good crate, but by being put into a different context. Just as that chair can become art (like the Eames chairs displayed in museum design departments). And again, just as that snow shovel became art (not to belabor the shovel example).

    This idea that something becomes art by being a great example of something else goes back to Aristotle's Aesthetics, but was a pretty much obsolete idea by the time Heidegger came along and analized our modern relationship with art objects. Aristotle's ideas would not be compatible with any of the modern or contemporary museum collections that I've seen.

  10. #10

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    What isn't "art?"

    No, Paul, you're reiterating what I say before I say it. But I did make a couple of negatives a few days ago which might meet the criteria of the original thread, "what isn't art."
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

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