Thursday, October 05, 2006

Random thoughts on art. . . .

Can anything meaningful be said about the word "art"? Can anyone say with any sense of clarity and logic what makes a thing (e.g. the Mona Lisa) art or what makes a family of things (e.g. painting) an art? Does art have value? Can it be good or bad? Can it be entertaining? Can it be educational? Can it be bought and sold? Can it appeal to the stupid and intelligent alike?

What determines the nature of an artform? Is it the system used to create content (painting on canvas)? The content created by the system (what is painted)? Or is it the conduit of delivery used to disseminate the content created by the system (the display of the painting in a gallery)? Is art art as soon as it is created, or must it first be observed?

When is a play a play? Is Shakespeare's Macbeth art if it isn't being performed? If so, why do we not consider the unproduced screenplay art? The screenplay is usually dismissed as the skeleton of another artform, but why is the same distinction not made between the play and the performance of the play?

What other artform does film most resemble? Is it most like photography, painting, sculpture, drama, dance, literature, or music? Andre Bazin argues that it is an accident of history and technology that image came before sound in the development of cinema (and in fact, it could be reasonably argued that television bears this supposition out: is the teleplay not more evolved from the radio play than from the cinema? -- but then many will ask whether television and radio should be considered art at all).

Is art expression or experience? Is it about the artist or about the perceiver? Does a work of art mean what the maker thinks it means or does its audience determine its meaning?

The frustrating aspect of every question I have asked is that none can be answered scientifically with indisputable facts. These are questions of a subjective nature. Their answers rely on convention, consensus, unspoken societal agreements, and traditions.

I believe that when we use the word art, we are frequently talking about two different things. Sometimes we are talking about art for the self, sometimes we are talking about art for the other, and often art for the self becomes art for the other. If I write a poem to express a feeling, I am writing it for myself, but as soon as someone reads it and says, "this poem is beautiful," it no longer belongs to me but to the reader.

We often think of the popular arts as being exclusively other-based. Novels, music, and movies are made and marketed directly for an audience, yet would we deny that works of art have been made this way? Folk art is often born out of utilitarian need -- a quilt crafted to warm a baby -- but we still find beauty and emotion in these works and declare it art. And if we look at almost any work of art with any honesty, we will see that it was likely created to be enjoyed by others (we will make exceptions for Emily Dickinson and her ilk of undiscovered geniuses).

Is there such a thing as talent? Can we think of people who are talented at a particular artform and others who we don't consider talented in that same form? Is talent something to be praised? Should we aspire to have talent, to develop it, hone it, add to it skill, and use it to our own advantage and the advantage of others?

I want to attempt a definition of art and see if that definition will stand: Art is an expression of human imagination that serves to satisfy the artist and impact an audience.

Is this a meaningful definition?

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts. Some very important questions- most of which will never be answered.

    I don't think art has to be seen to be art, I don't think a screenplay has to be produced to be art. I think we each evaluate a piece of work and determine whether or not it's art- on our own merits.

    For example, I've always viewed shoes on a powerline as art. I'm sure some others wouldn't agree. But that's what makes art so great, there is no textbook definition, there is no fact because it's art and it's the soul of mankind and you can't classify that. Art is whatever you think it is.

    For me personally your definition works in one way (except I don't think works have to be viewed to be art), however when I think about it for me personally (and this is a defintion from the viewers perspective, rather than the artists)-

    Art is something which moves me, intellectually or emotionally. Art is life.

    As an artist? Art is me. Art is anything I want it to be. Art is who I am. Art tucks me into bed at night and wakes me up in the morning. Art is life.

    Dear lord. That just makes so much sense to me.