What is art?

I studied art. Did a degree in it. Studied along side some artists who are quite famous now. But as writing slowly became my primary focus. Creating things that might be considered art objects has become less of a priority. I still make things now and then. I have boxes of stuff hidden away and notebooks full of pieces I would like to make when money and time permit. One of the reasons for my diminishing interest in making objects is a feeling that art is someone else’s culture. The a priori knowledge necessary to understand art still seems beyond me. (Reading this back I think I should clarify what I mean. Understanding art is incredibly subjective. And because it is so subjective it is prone to the vagaries of taste. And taste is just fashion. I’m left wondering who sets the fashion.) I often summed up my frustration with the impenetrable nature of understanding “cultural production” with the phrase “art’s just rich people’s decoration.” I’ve been to galleries with people with no exposure to anything you might call art. Their usual response is “I don’t understand it.” I then ask them “When you look at it what do you think?” This. That. The other. Then that’s what it means. But they’re still intimidated into not understanding it. And thus dismiss it as beyond them. Not theirs. I know how they feel. I was in my late teens before I ever went to an art gallery. I only studied art because at school I was a very practical student. I was good at drawing. That ability lead me to eventually to art school. Actually what it lead me to was an education. Not a great one. But enough to make me curious. I wouldn’t have started writing if I had not done all those practical things. Which is probably why I view my writing in very physical terms. But that is the subject for another post. I still have mixed feeling about art. On the one hand I feel I’m an artist. On the other I still feel it’s someone else’s culture. But this morning I got a new perspective. I happened upon a documentary on SkyArts about the American graphic designer Milton Glaser. He quoted someone who said art objects are an extension of the tribal tradition of gift giving. Objects would be exchanged as a way to cementing relationships. Without the exchange of these objects we would be at war. We’d kill each other. These objects provides a collective experience. Tell us a story that connects us. This idea has given me a lot to think about. And seems an interesting way to approach the question. What is art?


One Reply to “What is art?”

  1. ……and like writing, art allows us to plumb the heights and depths of our innermost thoughts and feelings……. the trouble is……. as you indicate, we don’t have the confidence to interpret, and we are never encouraged to talk about art. Intelligent and articulate friends, some of them teachers, never visit art galleries and never have a dialogue with art. They just use it for decoration or memory retention.

    There are a number of strands- some are knowledge based….. if we know some facts we can glean a level of understanding, and some are about ideas or narrative………. we can use art to tell stories about ourselves or about the world, and some are about aesthetics………. where very few try to understand their gut feelings.

    Galleries. despite their claim to have a concern about education, are very bad at interpreting the material they hold……… sorry, very jumbled…. it would take a book….. why don’t you write one… 🙂

    On another topic, I attend a creative writing group … deadlines are the only way to get me writing…… and I used that lovely photo of your’s of a woman and a beggar in an arcade as the basis of a story…. thanks for the inspiration…… and, no, I’ll not share it with you, it wasn’t that good…. LOL
    Regards, John.


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