What is art, to me? What is art, to you?
These two questions can change the meaning of the answer drastically, but they both go off of the same premise: what is art?
While I was going through art school I wasn't told once what art was, and I wasn't explained exactly what it is that artists are "supposed" to do. I read a lot and studied a lot about what artist's did though. If we knew what they did, why don't we know what they do? Why does it seem that the smarter an artist is, the harder it is for them to just simply answer what art is? A child can answer that question, and they can be so firm on their answer, yet the older we get the more we "think" about art, and what it is. Is art anything in particular? Does it require a certain….. something? Is there cohesiveness somewhere in the psyche of human beings that we are missing that would explain what's going on.
I had an argument in one of my lecture halls about this particular question, what is art. The whole class was instructed to argue with each other and the teacher played the ultimate devil's advocate over it all. To this day I still don't know what his beliefs are! It went something like this: We have drawing, and painting, and sculpture, and all the lovely other aspects to art school and then we have the other, graphic design, furniture design, and photography. What made these art versus the others… was there a common practice, thought pattern, or method? Some of the students firmly believed that graphic design was NOT art, which pissed off the graphic design majors. Some of the furniture design majors ragged on the drawing majors, because weren't we just doodling for fun anyway? And then we had non objective painters versus the more objective/abstract painters cropping up. We had them all in the class and everyone had a voice pro their choice in the art department and against others. This bothered me. How can we all be studying the same things with a difference only in medium, material, or tools, be so cruel to the other studies? Did they not know that in some cases they were highly lacking in skill in the media that they chose to rag on, and that particular person they were stepping on may actually be a more successful artist in their study than them?
Then I got bothered by that thought. Why would success even enter the field of what art is? Some people make art for themselves, and themselves alone, and only after death was it discovered that they were an "artist" and they were defined as very good at it!! But there has to be a line, art can't be infinite in all directions… can it? In all meanings of everything? Why not, it would encompass everyone, wouldn't? Isn't art something humans do? Or did we change that as well… I've seen elephants make art…. and I would call it art, but that's questionable as well. If they were trained to make specific marks in a specific way then they aren't exactly making art, they're practicing a learned skill right? Wait a minute… isn't that what defined painters in the Renaissance? A learned and academic skill unchanged and thorough and precise? So what made art a specific art then? Why is it not art now?
Food for thought, all these questions. It actually defined how I think about my work and how my work responds to me and what I'm thinking. I don't like to define myself as an artist because I'm very shy to jump into that pigeonhole. I do know things that I do. I illustrate, I draw, I build, and I design whatever the hell I want. I like to customize the things I do, everything. I like to be in control of my entire visual space around me. In order to be in control I have to work at all these skills, designing, craftsmanship, drawing, and planning, so that everything I make is exactly how I want it to be. And quality. So if other people want to label me as an artist, they can, and they can argue all day whether or not something I've made is more art than something else, but if I call myself an artist then I have lost the ability to argue other people's art because overall… aren't they just learning and executing a way of controlling their visual atmosphere as well?
Let me just tie up a lose end here. I do believe in teaching art and critiquing art, but as it is I simply spend more internal time thinking about what art is versus what art should be because I'm still learning. I'm not saying there isn't a standard somewhere, just that as humans are, those standards have not yet been found, just as cultural ethics has shown that we will never understand someone from a different culture, especially if we continue to believe that our one way of life is the right way of life. There is a standard of right and wrong somewhere in the philosophy of words, we may never get there, but that drive to understand what we are producing and doing is awesome. We wouldn't be where we are today without that need to understand. In science, in anthropology, in life, and in art.
It comes down to this. If you want to draw an octopus, draw one. If someone says that it's not photorealistic so it's not an octopus, explain why you chose not to make it so. Even if skill level is a reason, explain what you chose to do instead. If you only chose to draw a tentacle, explain why you chose to do that, what part of that octopus made that drawing about an octopus when you don't have the whole in there. There was a reason behind that choice. The goal in art crit is to discover the choice, vague and apparent, that the artist made. Were those choices appropriate to the overall goal of the message? Was there a communication going on between the artist, artwork, and viewer? And then the artist must always be aware of those choices that they are making. Even if it's a simple choice, be aware of it. Those are the recipes for your technique and style. The more choices you make the less likely it is that someone will tell you it's not art because it becomes less and less likely that someone could turn around and replicate what you're doing with ease. It's the choices that give depth to everything we do. Even if you have the most minimalist piece there were a multitude of choices that went into deciding on an outcome for the one mark you made.
And that comes to my defining answer of what art is to me. It's the internal choices we made exemplified in a manner that can appeal to the human senses. That'll change when we discover that a dog can appreciate art…. which I'm pretty sure my dog can now that I think about it...