Art: A Definition and a Ramble

OK. Yet more conversations are pushing my art buttons. Art is something I care a great deal about (seriously I have a degree in it and I wanted to teach it – you couldn’t have guessed right?) and it’s something I feel like I know about too. (I had gallery shows and people bought stuff and everything, that’s almost like being a professional!) The problem for me is how people define it.
If you ask an English Literature major whether there is a set canon of English Books you are likely to get an argument – they’ll either answer yes and the argument will be over what books to include or they’ll answer no and the argument will be over why not. But not only can you ask an English Literature major this question – you can ask pretty much anyone on the street this question and (though you may have to define ‘canon’) you’ll get an answer and you’ll get an argument.
You can do this with music as well and you’ll more readily get your debate from the random person you’ve accosted on the street because music, even more than Literature, is ubiquitous.
In my experience though, if you try and do this with art, unless you’ve got an Art Student you don’t get the debate from the person on the street, or at least not without more digging. Oh and heavens forbid that you mention you have any knowledge of the artworld whatsoever (and I mean that most broadly) because that’s the point you really will shut down any opinions whatsoever.

This really saddens me (I will explain why in a bit), but it would seem that ‘Art’ always has the connotation of paintings hanging in galleries whereas in actuality all of the above (literature, music) are art. Art is something deliberately created to provoke the senses, this includes so much and yet because so many people seem to take it as read that there is a definable canon there isn’t even any argument. (What that canon seems to contain is anything that’s shown in a gallery).

So why does this sadden me? I mean it’s reasonable to assume I would like the public at large to engage with art, it’s reasonable to assume that I am saddened because though music and literature have found their way into the everyday life of most people art mostly seems to be seen as being outside of everyday life. This is true but why it really gets to me is because my medium is that of installation in all of it’s broadness. I’ve done straight installation pieces and I’ve done happenings and I’ve done interactive pieces. I couldn’t really still consider myself to be an artist, a student sure, but I’m not having shows regularly and I rarely do anything other than write. But when I was creating my whole artistic voice/self was dedicated to taking art out of the gallery.

I really should have understood when I started to do that that my very actions and desire in doing this would have the opposite results. Historically when artists start thinking about the definition of art, when we start wanting to expand it – that’s when we lose our audience, when the general public really starts putting art outside of it’s own grasp and experience.

Allow me to explain: Marcel Duchamps fountain, in the early part of the 20th century still causes controversy outside of the artworld or the study of art. Duchamps started the found art movement, the idea that art could describe everyday objects – in Duchamps opinion what made art was the very fact of their being an artist to asign the term to anything he damned well liked. My own definition of art, played with this notion.
I very much see the next stage to Duchamps initial idea being Rauschenberg who was a guy big in the middle of the twentieth century and he really did start mixed-media. Oh big time did he. My favourite piece combines a goat, a tyre and oil painting.
Rauschenberg wanted to work in the gap between art and life and thats very firmly where I wanted to position myself. It was only really through Rauschenberg that I really began to understand where Duchamps came from as previously (and to be honest still) I had thought that declaring the only thing that was necessary to make an object art was the definition of the artist to be pompous in the extreme. But Rauschenberg’s notion that art spreads from the gallery out to the everyday object I found incredibly appealing.
From Rauschenberg the next stage in this forward movement of art’s definitions has to be Emin. (I realise I’m skipping ahead some and feel free to disagree with the three I’ve chosen) She takes her commonplace life and presents it as art. Her tent was the first piece of conceptual art that really got to me, it was the first time (I was fifteen) that I had been exposed to the idea that the everyday and ‘Art’ could or should interact. So really I didn’t go forward with the idea but had to work my way in the opposite direction to which I’ve presented it here.
This is where I positioned myself artistically, that everything in life could be art, what makes it art isn’t myself as the artist proclaiming it so however but myself presenting it and the audience viewing it. It is that interaction that causes something to become Art.

(Please note I’m not saying that this causes it to become good Art, I’m not getting into how good anything is just what makes something Art).

The problem with the notion that art should step out of the gallery, that it should intermix with everyday life is that this is generally only enjoyed by those who are already or who already consider themselves to be artists or critics or otherwise involved with the artworld. In fact it seems to very much alienate people who consider themselves external to the artworld, thus contradicting what it sets out to do. The exception to this would be with children. Children who haven’t been ‘taught’ what art is and what it is not were always the people who through themselves most enthusiastically into my installations. Somehow, though, our culture seems determined that Art should only exist in Galleries and have nothing to do with the everyday and the artists who are most determined that this should not be the definition of art (myself included) are those who are most responsible for the general public’s greater determination that it should be.

Not only should there not be a canon of Art in my opinion there should not be such a restricted definition. Whilst we believe that Art is found only in galleries we limit our way of percieving the world around us and in my book limits held without thought are a bad thing.

One thought on “Art: A Definition and a Ramble

  1. I think that artists like Banksy (I do think that a lot of graffiti can be considered artistically relevent) are bridging the gap between the gallery and the world outside it.
    I also disagree with the idea that to make something art, all that is required is an artist to proclaim it so – I think this is far too narrow, and I’d tweak the wording, too. I think that anyone can look at something and call it ‘artistic’, but for something to be ‘art’ it should be created with the intention of provoking some reaction or response from someone (this could include, and even be limited to, the artist themselves). This of course could lead to accidental art, which is where things get murky for me – is it ‘art’ if it was not created with the intention of getting a response, but gets that response anyway?

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