Thursday, 24 September 2009

Re-presenting Art - Measuring: Originality

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ 

As pointed out in the previous article – Hotham Court is the work of an architectural and development firm. This company produce buildings such as this like a factory. They are not original, however they are adapted for their purpose and setting. 


There must be originality in art. Firstly, in terms of quantity. I think there must be just one of something to be art. An H&M cardigan is not art, however Victor Stiebel’s ‘Day Dress’ 1947, on display at the V&A is art. It is unique in terms of number.


There is the matter of mass-production to consider, as discussed in the film, ‘Mona Lisa’s Smile’ when the students at Wellesley are challenged by the invention of paint by number to achieve Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers.’ Julia Robert’s character states that the product is removing Van Gogh’s originality. As Van Gogh himself did not produce many of the same, and distribute them amongst his (few) friends and family to be sold on, Van Gogh’s work by my definition is still art.


Originality, as alluded to, has a range of semantics. The other popular one and very important to this discussion is originality in concept or idea. To clarify my definition of originality, will hopefully stop this area of discussion being clichéd or vague. For me, originality is not new completely, that would be an unfair pressure upon artists. To be original is to approach a problem differently and to bring new life. It is true and right that we associate this adjective with an individual – it is not to be unique, but it is to bring the artist’s uniqueness to it. It is a right warning that my lecturer stated today “It is a fine line between being influenced by, and being a poor imitation of a work in the canon…every artist’s work is a reaction upon the one before…you need to add to their argument.”


Finding new concepts is relatively difficult. For example Di Vinci thought about flying in the 16th century, half a millennium later the Wright brothers thought again about flying and this time did. Art is certainly being altered by technological developments. But in terms of concept, I think as humans we’ve altered little.


Of the most original works I’ve acknowledged of late, these are mostly unique in their medium, or use of media.  Land-art came from using materials in their rawest sense and setting – a tree branch and not a panel of wood. Roni Horn’s Icelandic water in test tubes and again, Marc Quinn’s blood creations.


Originality again brings interest. While I recognise that originality in thought and media is important to make art interesting, I believe only originality in number is a true measure of what art is. 


  1. I'm not sure that the fact that something is mass produced disqualifies it from being called art. We consider films to be art, yet they are necessarily mass produced when they are put onto DVDs, and indeed onto cinema reels. Novels are mass produced when they are printed. So why is an H&M cardigan not art? I guess you could say that it is a poor imitation of something that someone else has designed, however this is not always the case. The difference is that first and foremost an H&M cardigans are classified as a 'consumer goods' rather than art. Is a Jack Johnson song a work of art? Most people would probably say yes, but it is as much a consumer product as an H&M t-shirt. Maybe the two are not mutually exclusive and it is possible for something to be both art and a consumer product. A lot of creativity lies behind advertising, but I'm not sure that creativity alone is a qualifier. Or is the business world able to produce art, even when it's primary purpose is not to 'be' art?

  2. I like your thought about art and consumer goods not being exclusive, though I naturally think of them as very separate, which doesn't make it right, but it does make me consider why.

    I would say music is part of the arts like theatre and literature but a song it not 'art' itself. I believe 'art' needs to be primarily visual.

    In trying to ascertain what art is I am selecting examples, which without being provoked by this discussion, the average Joe would not consider to be art, for example the H&M cardigan. I've not quite decided if this is a fair way to judge but: if I were to give a range of items to a five year old child including this cardigan and questioned them which are art, they would not identify the cardigan as such. The process I'm taking therefore is beginning at a non-philosophical, almost naive or childlike viewpoint and working out the logic/philosophy/psychology behind the assumption I, and I believe others make about art...