Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Morning Thoughts On Art

“You know that what you eat you are, but what is sweet now turns so sour…”
~George Harrison 

By Emma Rustan at Washington Galleries
As much as we dislike making judgments about things, we make them constantly. We place things in categories. Good/bad, useful/useless, important/unimportant, essential/irrelevant, playful/serious.... In the realm of art as a young student I wrestled extensively with the question, "What is art?" I had no idea how big a question it was at the time and now, in the second half of my life I find that question still awaits me.

Many of my interviews with artists have been roundabout ways of getting at this question through new eyes. And in some ways they are an attempt to unearth all the corollary questions that it seems tangled up with, most significantly, "What is good art?"

There it is, that "judgment call" that we shy away from. Is it "good" because it was executed with a certainly level of technical skill? I have seen work that is technically good, but felt heartless to me. 

A collection of essays by Noel Carroll is the catalyst behind some of my rambling here this morning. The book is titled Art in Three Dimensions, and it offers a small feast of mental nourishment every time I chew on it.

During last night's nibble Carroll pointed out that Arthur Danto made a distinction between Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes as art and the actual Brillo boxes in a store as "not art." This is a bold statement in some circles, but it seemed to be a defining moment in Danto's life when Warhol brought the elements of popular culture into the austere museum sanctuaries.

Morgan Pease show at the Ochre Ghost opening Friday.
We all make distinctions. "I like this. I don't like that." Even the artists themselves are perpetually making distinctions. "This is good, this is worth keeping. That is something I will paint over when I need another surface."

Noel Carroll address the issues behind the issues, like when is a pile of sticks more than a pile of sticks? When is it art and when is it just a pile of sticks? He is in a position to make assessments because he has spent a lifetime studying and thinking about what other art philosophers have been writing and saying.

The questions circle back over themselves. What gives art its importance? And why do we try so hard to define what art is and whether it should be defined?

John Heino displayed at the PROVE
James O. Young, in his review of Art in Three Dimensions writes, "Carroll argues that philosophers of art need to refocus their attention on the ways in which art enters the life of culture and the lives of individual audience members."

This statement brought to mind comments that artist and critic Ann Klefstad recently made in a Reader interview.

Not everyone is "an artist," in the way that "artist" has been understood for millennia—that is, someone whose primary job, whose chosen role, is to make stuff in the world (whether temporal like music or physical like sculpture) that is imbued with mind or spirit. But everyone is creative, and every human being is a maker. When that's choked off people die a little. Or a lot. And they stop caring about whether the day or the place is alive or beautiful.

This last statement is really potent to me. Once we stop caring about what kind of places or spaces we live in, we've lost a portion of our humanity, nobility and dignity.

Much more can be said, but it's time again to start my day. A little food for thought from the mind farm.


My Inner Chick said...

--Beautiful Post. I loved it.

"What is art?"

---quite honestly, everybody could answer that ""HUGE"" question in a different, unique way.

Art cannot be contained or explained. It cannot be put inside a box.

It just "Is."

Without it, I would have parished a long time ago...

ENNYMAN said...

Thank you for visiting and leaving a note. Best,

adee said...

It is always thought provoking, reading one of your posts that is.

ENNYMAN said...

I try to be. (Thought-provoking that is.) Thanks from the other side of the globe...