What is art?

I studied art, did a degree in it, studied along side some artists who are quite famous now. As writing slowly became my primary focus, creating things that you might considered an “art object” has become less of a priority. I still make things. I have boxes of stuff hidden away, notebooks full of pieces, things I’d like to make when time permits.

One of the reasons for my ambivalence is the feeling art is someone else’s culture. The knowledge you need to engage with and understand art often seems obscured from me. Art is incredibly subjective, and prone to the vagaries of taste, and taste is just fashion. I find myself wondering who sets the fashion?

I often sum up this malaise with “art’s just rich people’s decoration”.

I studied art because at school I was a very practical student, and good at drawing. That ability lead 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 be writing if I hadn’t done all those practical things before, which is perhaps why I view my writing in very physical terms.

I haven’t completely abandoned art or the idea of being an artist, but I’m not sure I’ll get over the notion that it’s someone else’s culture.

More recently I came across a documentary about the legendary American graphic designer Milton Glaser that’s changed my ideas a little.

Glaser argues art objects are an extension of the tribal tradition of gift giving. Objects would be exchanged as a way of cementing relationships. Without the exchange of these objects we would be at war, we’d be killing each other. These objects provides a collective experience, tell a story that connects us.


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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