29 May 2009

I may not know anything about art, but I know what I like...

A week or so back along, or thereabouts, I posted a response to Dr C's comment on an Unreal nature entry. Then I took it down again, a few hours later, because it was garbage (my post was garbage, that is; not Dr C's comment). Since then, a conversation has ensued through another Unreal nature post and its comments followed by a post from Dr C himself along with its own cargo of comments.

Quite apart from the discussion itself, Ray Girvan's three artists' statements about his own work, "My Crime", are worth a hundred times the entry money on their own.

But ... for me, the content of the discussion is perpendicular to its subject. (And if you can make any sense out of that metaphor, please let me know!)

I've said before, more than once, that I don't think "what is art" debates can go anywhere. I just wrote a sentence about signification domains and platykurtic uncertainty envelopes, but that doesn't go anywhere either so put it aside.

Art is, in words used by Ms Heyward in another time and place, "what you think it is". That's it. That's all there is, except that "you" can take three (possibly more) meanings.

  1. You, the creator of the putative piece of art.
  2. You, the viewer of the putative piece of art.
  3. You, plural, a sufficiently significant number of people (who may not, curiously, in many cases, have either created or viewed the putative piece of art) to constitute an influential consensus.

So long as at least one "you" defines something as "art", then that something is art.

Number 3, the consensus, can be generated in any number of ways ... some spontaneous, some artificial. If the artist passionately believes that her/his work is art, that passion can persuade others. If an influential viewer believes that s/he is seeing art, that too can persuade others. Very occasionally a sufficient number of viewers share the same response and generate their own consensus.

Dr C suggests that there might not be a clear divide between "art" and "not art". I agree; I'm inclined to the view that the two poles are of dubious reality while the fuzzy space between them is manifest.

Ray suggests that if he displayed his "my crime" collection of ketchup bottles he would be thought deluded, or a charlatan. This belief on his part probably makes that outcome very likely, while belief in the display as art might have a chance of producing viewer consensus (as, of course, might a sufficiently convincing hypocritical pretence at belief).

I never really think about whether or not what I do is art; I just do it, because I want to or because (in an inner sense) I must. If asked, I would probably dither and, eventually, say "I don't know" (or just wander off with a headache). But Dr C is kind enough to describe some of it as art; and, by that moment of being described so, it definitively becomes art.

Being art doesn't necessarily imply any particular meaning or value for "you". I would define Damien Hearst's bisected quadrupeds as art. I see intellectual and philosophical interest in them. They do f*** all for me personally, and I would rather have a nice bit of driftwood ... but they are still art, because I think they are. (So, of course, does the capital art market, which gives them separate consensual existence as art).

Dr C describes himself as "a label sort of guy". Most of us, I think, are – it's the price we pay for the manifold benefits of the Enlightenment. But labels are not what they describe: and vice versa. The more precisely we define the label, the more we lose our grip on that which it describes. A completely and precisely defined label would describe nothing at all: that's the nature of natural language. So it is with art.

Art is art because somebody believes it to be. Beyond that lie arguments about precisely how many angels can dance upon a pin.

Previous related rants:

1 comment:

Dr. C. said...

Finally got around to absorbing this post. Nothing in here that I can disagree with. I found the whole discussion, even getting shot up by that notorious gangster UN, very invigorating. If we all agreed on this, what would we blog about?