What is Art?
I've been making pictures for 60 years now. I enjoy doing that very much and that pleasure is what keeps me making pictures. I know from experience that people enjoy my work too.
I went to art school for 4 years in my late 30s.
I learned a lot and had a great time, but was always an outsider in the art world.
For graduation, each student was given space to present their work. Besides showing my prints (I was studying lithography) I presented two 3D pieces.
One was a long black box with a slot at one end. Inside the box was a computer and a printer. The printer printed on a roll of paper and pushed the result out the slot. I was the only person in the school who wrote computer programs and for this piece I displayed the Mandelbrot Set. As you may know, the Mandelbrot Set is a huge and wonderful mathematical object. It's a thing you can zoom in on to see more and more detail but you can also see the whole thing at once. At the magnification I was working at, that whole set would have been the size of Canada and I was printing an 8 inch wide strip from that. So what emerged from the slot in my box was a multi-coloured highly detailed image that was never the same. Nobody got the idea. But I was very pleased.
The work was very original. It was pretty. If you pondered the thing for a while there was lots to get engaged with. But the artist's around me were not thinking like that. From my perspective they were looking at art magazines and imitating what they saw there.
A few of my classmates were excellent drawers.
Nobody really paid any attention to them either.
The reaction to them was similar to the way people responded to my work. It may be well done and all, but it's not really ART. And basically, it wasn't ART because it was detached from the direction that the art world was moving at the time. This was when post-modernism in art was dominant.
While to me art should be attractive and immersive the movement at the time was to try to be as repellant and upsetting as you could. See? By being repellant you were demonstrating how serious and profound you are.
I like pottery a lot. I've known lots of potters. I have a collection of pottery myself. Once I produced a monthly publication for the BC Potters Guild. What people can do with form and color with pottery is amazing. Beautiful and interesting. But it was deemed to be 'craft' and not ART.
These days I don't go to art galleries much any more.
But I pass by many each day as I go about my errands and see what is on offer.
And to be honest - I can't imagine why anyone would want a lot of that stuff.
Where would you put it?
But people do buy it. The galleries have been around for years so they must be selling. I think the purchasers are thinking like my classmates. If a piece was 'difficult' (as they say :-) it shows that the owner is serious and profound. Also it demonstrates their wealth because pictures in a gallery are not cheap.
I used to read critics like Roger Fry and Clive Bell and Clement Greenberg. From them I go the idea that art creates an aesthetic experience. The aesthetic experience involves a feedback loop between a viewer and a (say) picture. The viewer looks, and sees and that causes a thought or experience that causes the viewer to look more. Great art creates a feedback loop that can engage a person for quite a long time. Bell brought forward the important fact that with art we confront something made by another person for my appreciation. For instance, no matter how glorious a sunset or how beautiful a flower - it's not art because it just happens. Nobody created it for our appreciation. A garden is different because it is made for our appreciation.
One measure of art is whether people want to keep it. It's no accident I think that old pictures tend to be excellent. It's because the excellent pictures are the ones people want to keep and so they get preserved, while mediocre pictures end up in the garbage. One time I was walking across a parking lot and a picture blown by the wind smacked against my leg. I looked at it and liked it and kept it. I still have it. I think it's art.
I'm not dismissive of my classmates at all. Even repellant work can be art because being repelled and resisting is a feedback back loop too. And it also explains in a way why my own work is kind of dismissed by the art world. I'm just not dealing with things that engage them. My work is calm and orderly and rational. They are looking for energy and emotion. So, sort of as pottery gets dismissed as 'craft', my work gets dismissed as 'decoration'.
There is another aspect to all of this. I'm a loner and art is very much a social thing. It's a dance of reputation and status. It's not just a matter of creating pictures. I make art because it is immediately gratifying to me. But to make it as an artist you need to do a lot of things that are just repellant to me.
I've been speaking of pictures here but there are many art forms besides pictures. Pictures and sculpture are static and so my idea of an aesthetic experience that is feedback loop works. Other artforms like dance and music and literature and theatre are not static at all since they are extended in time. An important point here is that all those art forms are made by people for our appreciation. And though they aren't static they do take over our attention while we are engaged. And like great pictures, a great performance or writing stays in our memory. We can revisit it again and again, having a new thought each time.
What do you think?