Thursday, February 24, 2011

Of Art and “Art”– A discussion of what is and isn’t

A Facebook friend brought up a thorny subject the other day, and I thought I would start a discussion here about it. In effect his questions fell into the subject of “What Is Art?” A question that is probably as old as art itself.

The nuance of the question is when does art become less or more than itself. When does commercialization sap it of its genius and when does genius or experimentation transform it to something other than art?

Put another way:

tk99-09Why is the work of Thomas Kinkade not considered art? One friend compared his work to dollar store Christmas ornaments (ouch). Mind you it looked lovely in the Disney movies, but something happened when these works started being sold as collectors items and people actually started to collect them. We all know how that ended.



rauschenbergwhitepaintingWhy does the work of Robert Rauschenberg (white painting for instance) create such controversy? As one blogger explains “Rauschenberg painted the White Painting as an intentional attempt to see how much content he could strip out of a painting and still have it have meaning.” this sense of “meaning” though, is it art? If it is, is it visual art or experimental art? Is the use of a canvas meaningful or incidental? Is it, in other words a “painting”?



We could discuss of course people like Bob Ross and other TV follow along individuals. We can also discuss the handful of method artists out of the mountain area in the USA who all seem to have breath taking works until you see enough of them and start realizing that you can’t tell one from the other because they all follow the same “process”.

Or we can stay away from the negatives and discuss what makes art art for you. After all, that is what matters, the rest lives around the edges and behind the canvas.

I’m opening this up both here and on Facebook, so take a stab and please… why don’t you let us know how you really feel


  1. one of the university courses I took many years ago had a segment, what is art, and it opened my mind - a lot. I still remember him saying, a rock in a garden could be considered art. At that time, my idea of art was Manet, Degas, et cetera, the masters. Now, I am more open to what is art and so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Of course, like anything else, there is good art and bad art.
    I am always amazed at the programs on TV teaching how to paint using a house paint brush and have to admit that from a distance, at least, some of them are not that bad (I would not want one, but some people do) and then there are the art fairs where all paintings are, what, under $25 bucks.
    The argument could be made that at least people are buying original art as opposed to copies. But what about the artists who paint one original and then run a thousand copies, sign them and sell them for a lot of money. Is that art? Lots and lots of buyers seem to think so.
    You brought up the point that some artist paint the same thing type of thing over and over. That is a problem I think most people have. Singers have to sing the same type of song or they lose their audience. Authors write in the same style pretty much all their lives and often on the same theme. Many of us have a certain philosophy and principles that guide us through our lives, our conversations, and most certainly our creativity.
    Also, if someone wants to make a living selling art, if they find something that sells, hey, they are going to keep on doing it, aren't they?
    Also, I remember at university being told, pick one area of art and keep doing it until you are really good at it. The problem is, once you start, there is always another angle you can do. The old masters had studios filled with students who in many cases did most of the paintings while the master may just do parts. I remember being upset for a while when I found out once photography had been invented, artists used to paint from photos, a practice many look down upon now.
    So, as I go on and on, art is many things. Some artists will paint because they feel compelled to and will do the best their psyches demand. Others will follow the lure of making money and may - may churn out stuff they are not proud of.
    It's all relative, isn't it?

  2. I love the Picasso quote, "We all know that art is not the truth, art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." If a work reflects a truth for the artist, and one or more people resonate with the work, then I'd say its art to that artist and audience. Everyone doesn't have to resonate with it. Some people love Thomas Kincaid's commercial stuff, and if it strikes a chord with them, then I think it's good. One has to start learning about art somewhere, IMHO. "Good" taste in anything refined is usually acquired through experience, and perhaps a bit of encouragement or instruction. When they were young, I'd let my kids read anything they wanted, including comic books. I'd also let them stay up late to read. They got lots of reading in, believe me! Over time, as their reading experience increased, so did their sophistication. Now, while they still enjoy the funnies, their preferred material is well written and thoughtful. Applying this idea to art, although some people who love black velvet Elvis paintings may never grow to appreciate the great masters, it's still a step in the direction of art appreciation. The more exposure people get to art of any type, the better.

  3. Jane, Megan,

    Your posts are wonderful! Thank you for taking the time to add to this discussion and I love your ideas.


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