Thursday, 22 October 2009

Re-presenting – some kind of conclusion

My fascination over ‘What is Art’

Rachel Eliza Guthrie


Art must be visual. It may be acoustic, and aromatic, textured and perhaps even flavoursome or moreover appeal to all our senses; but the power of art is in the visual. Art is what you can see. Yet it is not everything you can see. Art can include text, but words are not the stars of this show.  Returning to my very first itch of this discussion – the things pinning me down and restricting me from admiring all that is contemporary about/in art – is words. I refuse to praise art that cannot stand-alone and speak for itself. There is great power in art, but some modern artists are not releasing it. They are relying on explanations to engage their audience. For someone who loves the possibilities available to us in language, this should surprise you that I am willing to conclude this. Yet I refuse to claim virtuously and hyperbolically that everything is art so here I must draw the line. Art is visual, and is not text. Good art is inspiring, provoking, gripping, engaging or to cover all possibilities: generally pleasing to somebody, if it does not rely on lexemes. Especially not well-phrased philosophies, or dramatized speeches.


We are not discussing ‘the arts’ or ‘the art of cooking.’ The Arts is a way of grouping avenues of creativity, which are not necessarily visual. I have no doubt that poetry is an art, but it is not art. I do not quite understand who thought it would be good to have art as both a singular specific (I do believe, as I have argued, we must be specific about art and what it is) and a plural, non-specific, because it only provides confusion. It is interesting to consider why it is that the visual arts took on the title of art itself – I’m not quite going to suggest the visual arts are the best of the disciplines…! There is an art to cooking, like there is an art to writing. These again use the indefinite article ‘an’ rather than the definite ‘the’ of which the art I am discussing is.


From each measure – I have personally argued and concluded that: art is created by artists and designers because artists and designers compose pieces that have the purpose of being art – pieces which are of their own kind of beauty and are to be displayed.  Art is unique in number. The speciality of art is it relative rarity.


Here I will willingly let you disagree. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Re-presenting – Measuring: Function

My fascination over ‘What is Art’


One of the key reasons Hotham Court is not art is because of its purely practical purpose – to house students. It does not want to be art, and so it is not.  Its function is not to be on display. Let me exemplify with Michelangelo’s sculpture David, which had an underlying aim - to represent Florence’s republic as heroic and their defeat of Milan’s tyrant, as worthy; yet, it always had an aesthetic aim - to be on show. This was originally going to be on the top of the Florentine cathedral but so it could be more overt it has stayed in front of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.


I find it very hard to define art beyond the confines of the environments we see it in usually. Traditionally this would be a painting in an art gallery, and a sculpture on a plinth in a plaza. Now here is where architecture poses a problem for me in my theorem. Architecture always has a practical purpose as well as the visual one that makes it art. If it lacks this practical purpose it is instead an installation, or a monument. But when does a building become crucially ‘a piece’ of architecture? – which is that same language we use for fine art. I can only see this as an answerable question when in correlation with function. Architecture for example does not appear in one kind of setting, for example dock side like the Sydney Opera House. Also many architects work on the commercial – or practical side of design – design beyond aesthetics, for example Norman Foster’s firm designs a merry number of toilets.


In other words – art has to be art. It has to want to be art – to serve people as art. Whatever this service may be: entertainment, visual satisfaction, intellectual stimulation or soul searching – none of these are right, or wrong functions of art. Art must be consciously designed to be art. In this argument – the content and the journey to the final product may be spontaneous, even found in its finished form (ready-made), but the displaying of it, is what gives it its function. It does not need to be in an ornate frame because it may be on a much larger scale, or distributed over a much larger area – for example Jean Claude and Christo’s Wrapped Coast in Little Bay, Australia. Art is not a game of hide and seek. It is the monetary business of making, displaying, buying and selling. 

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Re-presenting – Measuring: Emotionality and Meaning

My fascination over ‘What is Art’

I’ll try not to repeat myself in relation to the article on originality, as I raise again concept, or meaning. A lecturer at a number of the London art galleries, Dr Richard Stemp, highlighted a very relevant point when I heard him speak last week. At the Tate Modern, he is regularly interrogated to the meanings of the pieces he includes in his lecturers and that he passes on his tours. At the Wallace Collection, where I found him, such interrogatives hardly ever arise. There is of course meaning to paintings where the visual is representative. Take for example the mannerist period in which nearly all works of arts were allegoric and not to be taken only at face value – this would include the later work of Michelangelo. Motives of the artist are on very few occasions left silent. The study of the history of art would not be as insightful as it is if works of art were purely to be interpreted on an exterior, aesthetic level.


Meaning as a word has connotations of emotion. To have meaning is often to have significance because of the way it makes you feel. To have meaning usually stretches beyond a base of emotions – frequently it is only put into use when referring to deep or power emotionality except that although the adjective deep or power is meant, it is omitted.


As I have been writing, I’ve had many friends share their opinions with me. One stated that the best method of distinguishing between items of art and those that are not, is through this measure alone, questioning: does the ‘object’ provoke a reaction or an emotion? If it does, it is art. Art must cause an emotional response. I find this not definitive enough.


Now I will return to my opinion on emotionality as a measure of art. To measure art on whether it causes a response and not what kind of response is good because it becomes less of a judgement on the quality of the art. However to measure it purely on whether it causes a response is like a bad experiment – it relies on too many human factors that can be sporadic and desultory.  Art is subjective because people’s footings vary so much. There are those who will weep endlessly during the film A Walk to Remember and those to which the sentimentality will little affect them.  Especially also, some look at art and they are so disinterested that their apathetic response barely surfaces.


Leading feminist art historian Linda Nochlin writes in one of her essays, ‘[the] misconception [- of] the public at large - of what art is: the na├»ve idea that art is the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience, a translation of personal life into visual terms. Art is almost never that, great art never is. The making of art involves a self-consistent language of form…the language of art is, more materially, embodied in paint and line of canvas or paper, in stone or clay or plastic or metal it is neither a sob story nor a confidential whisper.’ 

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Re-presenting – Measuring: Beauty

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ 

I cannot help but tie my opinions and ideas about art with beauty. As I believe art must be visual, I will rely on the visual, and the suggestions made by what I see in order to make judgements. We are all aestheticists, however our ideas of beauty are incredibly varied. Beauty like art is subjective. Moreover, art is probably subjective due to the fact that so much of people’s opinions of it is based upon their ideas of what is attractive.


There are certain works of art that when I view I hear clashing cymbals and cries of discord. As a good friend and fellow art student of mine and I were discussing: from interviews we can gather that Damien Hirst perceives his art as being beautiful. Many however would probably disagree on the account of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living AKA the shark. When you consider that a creator generally will only make what he sees as beautiful, or worthy, then it seems logical.


There are of course exceptions, like works where emotionality is key – a painting on the theme of war, for example many of Otto Dix’s distorted scenes, are intentionally aggressive, discordant, jarring and dark. I find the style of his Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden uncomfortable and displeasing. This is probably more contentious work than one unquestionably praised sculpture –Mary Magdalene in poplar wood by Donatello, of which I do not like, though I know there is nothing ‘wrong’ with it.


Let’s consider beauty in craftsmanship. Vital to my positive reaction to art, is the ease at identifying the artist’s skill and ability. This is as I actively seek ‘quality’ in artwork. While I recognise the artistry in spontaneous works, I much prefer the charm found in well-planned and crafted compositions. All artists can draw and it would be unjust to suggest that those who choose not to work within the confines of correct perspective, authentic colour choices and detailed brush-strokes; do not have the capability to do so.


Art does not have to look good to be art. This has been a changing dimension in the history of art however. For the majority of work from the Renaissance through to the long 18th Century, the 19th century and predominantly, into the 20th century - art’s main purpose has been to please the eye, to exhibit and sell and entertain the higher classes. In pre-modern times - in the Middle Ages, it could be argued - but definitely in the cases of the ancient Egyptian civilisation and before, art didn’t need to be beautiful because it was not commercial because it served purpose.                                                                                                                        


So how can we measure what art is in relation to the above? From this we probably can’t conclude much about what art is especially with the metamorphosing standards on beauty, but we can establish more about how we view art. This may be a sidetrack, but beauty is an important consideration because it is so intrinsically tied to our responses to art, which cannot be dismissed. After all, much of our judgement on objects about whether or not they constitute as art, is instinctive.