Thursday, June 16, 2011

What is Art?

Ohhh, dear readers, with a loaded entry title like that one, you know this post might be a little controversial. And in fact, I'm not even going to answer the question for you. You have to answer the question for you. Every single person in this world has a different interpretation of art.

Whether you think THIS is art...

Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa.

Or perhaps think that THIS is art...

Marcel Duchamp. The Fountain.

It really depends on the eye and interpretation of the viewer.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines art as "a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination." defines it as "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. The class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria." Wikipedia defines art as "the product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect." Even our dictionaries can't come up with one, solid, unified definition!

Here's how a few artists define art:
  • "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." - Edgar Degas
  • "Art is whatever you can get away with." - Andy Warhol
  • "Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind which searches into nature and which there divines the spirit of which Nature herself is animated." - Auguste Rodin
  • "Art is literacy of the heart." - Elliot Eisner
  • "Art is skill, that is the first meaning of the word." - Eric Gill
  • "Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all of the generations of the world." - Leonardo da Vinci
  • "All art is but imitation of nature." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
  • "Art must be an expression of love or it is nothing." - Marc Chagall
  • "Art is a lie that helps us realize the truth." - Pablo Picasso
Why do I bring this up now?

Well, in talking with some lovely, lovely art aware friends, some "Art" controversies have popped up in the media lately, so I thought I'd share them with you. It's always good to know the current events!

Event 1: If you have assistants make your art for you, is it YOURS to sign and take credit for?
Jeff Koons. Balloon Dog.

The Wall Street Journal Online posted an article called The Art Assembly Line on the 3rd of this month. I suggest you take a look at it to get the full scope of the article and to understand the points of view. In summary, the article begs the question...If an army of assistants really do the production work for an artist, is it fair and legitimate for the artist to claim the work?

Before leaping to your first conclusion, try to envision both sides. The critics, and I'd say most of us, probably think that if an artist claims a work (and is getting paid for it), they should have actually had a hand in making it. But sometimes a person's technical proficiency may not be able to meet the high standard of their ideas. In that case, I think it's fair for an artist to employ help. Once again harkening back to my beloved Dale Chihuly, once he lost use of one of his eyes from a car accident, he didn't have the depth perception and skill to keep blowing glass. It would have been dangerous for him and those in his studio to continue. But should he really give up his dream and career because of an accident?

Michelangelo once said, "A man paints with his brains and not with his hands." And Henry McNeill Whistler said, "An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision." And I will remind the Court (that's you) that artists employing assistants has actually been a practice for a very, very long time...

And then sometimes the artist isn't involved in the process at all (as the article points out). And sometimes they maintain creative control, but the assistants can get greedy and argue copyright since it was their hands that actually did the laboring. Sometimes artists can't meet demand without help. There are a lot of facets of this issue.

What do you think?

Event 2: Are a 4-year-old's abstract paintings really worth $27,000?

This topic comes from a NYTimes article, "Your Four Year Old Can't Do That," also published this month...but press on this topic has been running for a while.

This little girl, Aelita Andre, of Russian-decent and living in Australia with her two artist parents, has been showing her work in galleries since she was 22 months old. Story is, her work was accepted for a show and only AFTER the fact did the gallery manager find out her age. Since then she's become a kind of sensation as a child prodigy, her artwork met with accolades and described as referencing the "'automatism' and 'accidentalism,' branches of surrealism extensively practiced by Salvador Dalí and Picasso." Her website includes a list of acclaim for the little girl's work and her work has sold...and sold for a lot.

But of course, as the world tends to be skeptical, her growing fame has been met with the likes of "My child could do that" and critics pointing out that despite the sometimes elaborate names (The parents have to be involved with that, I'd think...), there's not likely any deeper meaning behind the art. If you put a canvas and a ton of brushes and paints down in front of any four year old, wouldn't you expect something similar? How is she so different?

Feel free to browse through her gallery, found here. What do you think? Do you think it's exceptional? Do you think anyone could do that? Could YOU do that?

At very least...her parents are P.R. WIZARDS and hey, she's got a good start on her college fund, right?

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