What is art? *UPDATED*

Blouin ArtInfo is out with a slide show purporting to identify the 25 most iconic pieces of art in the past five years.  One of them is Shepard Fairey’s famous, and much pwned image of Obama’s face (illegally stolen from an AP photo), over the word HOPE. The rest you might not recognize. For example, there is one artist’s decision to let ordinary people perform in public (we used to call that “the buskers of Fisherman’s Wharf”). Then there’s a long, slow video of an empty McDonald’s filling with water. And if those don’t float your boat, there’s a museum floor mopped with a solution containing human blood.

Art?  I don’t know.

In the old days, art had three purposes:  to worship God, to record the world in a pre-photographic era, and to create beauty.  I think you will agree with me that none of the 25 art pieces do that (except, perhaps, for the Obama poster, which is clearly God worship).  What are these pieces then and why are they called “art”?  That is, what distinguishes them from any other graphic “thing,” such as a nice piece of furniture, a large rock in the backyard, a messy room, etc.

Your comments would be welcome.  My own sense looking at these things is that the art world, if pressed to be honest, would say that anything that elevates Leftism, and that denigrates capitalism and conservative values, is art.

UPDATEThe Razor’s non-council submission this week for the Watcher’s Council is The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism.  It seems apropos.


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  • 94Corvette

    “But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.
    “Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”
    “But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.
    The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

  • http://furtheradventuresofindigored.blogspot.com/ Indigo Red

    “In the old days, art had three purposes:  to worship God, to record the world in a pre-photographic era, and to create beauty.”

    To worship God and record the world were probably more in line with communication than art. The addition of creating beauty elevated that communication above simply telling of the Good News or just news in general. When beauty was reduced to the simpler “cause an emotional reaction within the viewer,” then there was a breakdown of art. Too often  the primary and celebrated  emotional reactions have been disgust, revulsion, followed by a strong desire to vomit. In fact, artist Millie Brown created art with her own vomit.

    The good thing about such art like that of Brown and those linked bey BW is that it applies primarily to the sophomoric cognoscenti. The art appreciated by the vast, VAST, majority of humanity continues to be recognizable and pleasing. Besides, where does one mount vomitus? And, where is the real skill challenge when my vomit is as good or better than a professional artist’s vomit? Anyone who has taken care of a sick child knows how colorful they can be.

    But, I’m biased. I am an old fashioned representational kind of artist:

    I also have a problem with “iconic.” I doubt people using “iconic” even know what it means. Only 1 of the the 25 iconic art works is actually representative of an period of time larger that itself and that’s the ripped-off Fairey “Hope.” But for how long? As long as La Giocanda or the Sistine Chapel Ceiling? I can’t imagine even “Hope” being remembered, loved, and studied as “Snap the Whip” or “The Problem We All Live With”?

  • https://picasaweb.google.com/102427392960537405774 Kevin_B

    I find it difficult, if not nearly impossible to give a definition of what art is, Bookworm, and I’m not sure whether I can agree with the definition you gave. Certainly, you were right about the old days, or at least partially, but what then is art today? The only part of that definition that would likely stand is the beauty part, and I’m not even sure about that.
    I’m not sure it is possible to define what art is. I feel like art is a kind of “I know it when I see it” thing. I can’t explain what is art, but I do have certain feelings about this subject. What I could say, however, is that what I see as art, must in some way involve aesthetics/beauty, skill and sharing. I think much of what is called ‘modern art’ lack in the things that make something art. The only ‘modern art’ I like are some (and few, to be honest) examples of modern architecture and some music genres (mostly way out of mainstream, such as heavy metal, but also contemporary classical music).
    “My own sense looking at these things is that the art world, if pressed to be honest, would say that anything that elevates Leftism, and that denigrates capitalism and conservative values, is art.”

    Sounds like a good summary of much of modern art. Such things certainly are prevalent amongst artists today.


    Indigo Red – Your chair is my concept of art. Beautiful work.  Conceptual art is lost on me. Never understood Christo and a 1,000 yards of orange fabric.

    Of course, fabric can be a canvas for the truly talented see the link below to Deidre Scherer. 


  • https://picasaweb.google.com/102427392960537405774 Kevin_B

    Indigo: forgot to comment on your painting, but I like it. I would call it art.

  • Wolf Howling

    I just viewed the slideshow.  Beyond the diamond skull, which I thought was pretty cool, I saw nothing that I would classify as art.  What I saw was post modern surrealism and political statements slapped with a label of art.  I was surprised not to see the infamous “piss Christ” in there, but I suppose it was too old.  It would have fit right in.  It would seem that what forms art in the mind of the creator of the slide show has more to do with political statements than with the creation of things of beauty.   

  • http://furtheradventuresofindigored.blogspot.com/ Indigo Red

    Thank you. Maybe there’s a market for my work after all these years.

  • Mike Devx

    My take is that most “art” -at least of the visual form – can be separated into three categories: protest, representational, and celebratory.  Sometimes art will cross over into multiple categories, but even then one is usually dominant.

    Most religious art prior to the 1960s was celebratory.  It’s hard to find a significant artist since then making celebratory religious art.

    I think of Ansel Adam’s photography as being representational, but it crosses over some into celebratory, because he seeks to elevate the viewer.

    Most art in the last 50 years is protest art.  In one way or another, most of it is an assault on either traditional art, or on traditional values.  Piss Christ and Elephant Dung Mary are assaults on both traditions. Rarely does modern art attempt to elevate the viewer.  In fact, most of the time it tries to do the opposite.  Its purpose is to emphasize to the viewer either that “the world is complete shit”, or else it is full of ennui, stating in its themes and vision that, “the world is meaningless, and so are you.”  I didn’t view the video of the McDonald’s slowly filling with water, but I strongly suspect it is of the ennui/despair school of protest art: “The world is meaningless, and so are you!”

    What does it mean when *protest* art actually becomes the completely dominant status quo?

    I’ll take the celebratory art, every time, with appreciation for good representational art where I see it.  Protest art?  I say to nearly all protest art:  You’re meaningless.

  • Ron19

    “In the old days, art had three purposes: to worship God, to record the world in a pre-photographic era, and to create beauty.”

    Several times a week, it seems, I get emails from some of my correspondents that contain a photography slideshow.  Many of the pictures satisfy criteria one and three above, done in a photographic era.” Some are photographs or photoshopped pictures, and some are pen and paintbrush style pictures.

    There is a lot of good art out there, but it’s being done by ordinary people, not the “celebrated” artists of those 25 ïcons. 

    Way back when, like a coupe of decades ago, movies and TV used to make fun of so-called “art” like the 25.


  • http://caedmon-innkeeper.blogspot.co.uk/ Caedmon

    Wonderful watercolour Indigo Red, and I think you touch on something very profound in your comment. Once artists discard the devotional or the simpler end of representation to pursue beauty for beauty’s sake, the door is open to decadence, and decadence is never shy.  What puzzles me are the insulting premises on which conceptual art is built. 1. That the mass of humanity are soul-less drones blind to the horrible world all around them. 2. That the artist is a sick individual who unwittingly breaks through the illusion. 3. An aesthetic elite is required to discover the correct sick individuals and present their work to the soul-less drones. By an astounding coincidence this aesthetic elite is found among the rich and powerful. Never mind the artwork, how does this self-serving set of ideas pass without scrutiny, let alone criticism?   If I may, something of my own art.  http://caedmon-innkeeper.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/when-all-you-have-is-pencil-every.html 

  • Danny Lemieux

    As with the other commentators, I loved your portrait of the President, Indigo Red. Will it be the “official” portrait?

    More on the subject of good art: as Kevin_B put it, “I know it when I see it”. To me, the great artists were self-supported by their own skills. If you were good, you got business. If you weren’t, you were out of business. Many starving artists (I’m thinking of the Impressionists) were unappreciated until much later in life. Somehow they survived and nurtured their talents. I suspect that their early poverty also enhanced their talents.

    The worst thing that happened to “art” in the Judeo-Christian world was its taxpayer subsidization.

    This provided the foundation for an art community made-up of trust-fund babies and rent seekers. Mediocrity does not describe what they produce. The really good artists that I know would not take a dime of public money.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Indigo Red:  That is a lovely painting.  It falls completely into the aesthetic, decorative category:  I like the content, the colors, and the structure/balance.

    I have to say, though, that I’m completely unsurprised whenever I learn that my Bookworm Room friends have hidden talents.  I believe in the theory that holds that if one is smart and creative in one arena, one is probably smart and creative in others as well.

  • Mike Devx

    Indigo Red I thought your watercolor painting was very absorbing.  I liked it a great deal.  I spent more than ten minutes just looking it over, seeing what I could see, and I kept noticing new and different things.  It took me forever to notice the spotting on the bedroom wall; for the longest I thought you’d simply painted the wall a smooth shade; but obviously you didn’t!  It was subtle I suppose, but glaringly obvious once I noticed it.  I also liked the way you painted the wooden framing in the forward room.  I was fascinated by your technique there.

    A very enjoyable work of art!

    And, ahem, compare and contrast the careful attention paid to perspective on the tiles; the skill and effort involved there.  Compare and contrast that to the *lack* of careful attention and skill required by most of the works of “art” that were considered “iconic” over the last five years.  Those words of art require a level of skill and attention, in their construction, that is more akin to a child of four finger-painting on the wall.  Great enthusiasm, lots of hootin and hollering… and almost zero cautious attention and skill.


  • http://furtheradventuresofindigored.blogspot.com/ Indigo Red

    Wow, I am so appreciative of the compliments! Thank you.

    Mike Devx, I painted that wall area with a very dark shade. When it was completely dried, I used a Dremel tool with a sanding disk to remove the upper layers of stained paper, leaving some dark spotting. Then, with an almost colorless colored water, applied a light wash to paint-in the bare areas again.

    Book, I can also whistle.