Thoughts On Artistic Value Part III: What Is Art?

Song suggestions: 'Time' by Hans Zimmer (If you feel like something beautiful and majestic, but which is an imitation of his previous work) or 'Walk' by the Foo Fighters (If you feel like something raw and loud, but which displays the Foo's recording in their garage, using analog equipment and old school tape, to try something new (again), going against everything modern music makers around them thought would sound good). 

"Art, is not painting, or sculpture, or... writing a play. Some of those might be art, but lots of times, merely paint by number. On the other hand, the triage nurse at the Greensborough Hospital, who looks you in the eye and does a better job of getting you the right care you need, that's art, cause its not in a manual, and it can't be done the same way every time, and it's human, and it might not work, and it involves a connection. So my definition of art is yes, Andy Warhol did somethings that were art, and other things he was merely copying himself, the ones that he did (that) were art were moments where he was initiating, and inventing, and creating, and yes, touching other people. So if the painter keeps all her paintings in the attic until after she's dead, she's not an artist, she's a painter. It's not art until there's a collision with the world. Now, part of what makes it art, is it being done for the first time. This conversation you and I are having, you put a lot of effort into thinking about how to guide it and doing the research, and you're saying things which might not resonate with me, we didn't practice, so in this moment, there's some art going on, and if it becomes really remarkable people here will remember it for weeks or years to come."

                                                  - Seth Godin and Nido Qubein, interview at High Point University. 

"The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition... always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning."

                                                 - Roland Gérard Barthes

According to Seth Godin, art is the act of doing something you are not sure will succeed. Some things Andy Warhol created were art, others were not, they were simply imitations of themselves. 

I agree with him. But, I think it is only 1/3 of the full picture. The second third, is something I mentioned in Artistic Value (Part I). To me, art is something that expresses meanings, feelings and ideas. I think it is also defined as something that stirs emotions in the viewer, or doesn't, perhaps it challenges his or her perceptions of the world around them, of art itself, or perhaps just provokes thoughts in them. 

And then, the third part of my definition is how I would say nothing in life is black and white. Everything has different shades, levels, perspectives to it. I've been quite black and white with the way I've seen situations in my life in the past. Recently, I've come to deslike people who can't see things from more than one perspective. Art is not black and white. It is the opposite of that. 

In order to define something as art, one can compare it to other art that's out there and put it on a spectrum. Therefore, part 3: the definition of art is a spectrum. 

On one side of the spectrum I'd place the banalities of life, the mundane, everyday actions we go through in contemporary life. Ground zero is washing your dishes. The triage nurse from Greensborough hospital would be somewhere on this end of the spectrum. 

On the opposite side of that spectrum you have a brand new creation, which the world has never seen before. 

Taking music as an art form that I understand profoundly from a practical and an emotional perspective: with every new musical period that came to be in the history of western art music-Renaissance - Baroque - Classical - Romantic - Impressionism - Expressionism and so on - every time there has been a revolution in the musical world, art was being made. 

The Avant Garde period in France was a period in the early 20th century of great artistic value to the performing arts from this perspective. Now a days, some forms of performance art, body art, extremism and expressionism are considered the cutting edge ideas of the art world... The world has certainly become stranger... 

But, from the perspective of the Seth Godin part of that definition, the first iPhone was also a work of art... And so was the first phone with a camera on it, and so was the first phone with a GPRS signal, and so on... Technology, or perhaps new ways of communicating with ever wider and ever greater audiences - a new technique in marketing for instance, a brand new brilliant advertisement - all of these, would also be considered art by this part of the definition...

When I was younger I would never consider this art, but why shouldn't it be? Aren't these types of creations the kind that change the world, change people's lives, influence them, make them feel and allow them to further connect with each other? In addition, aren't these the kinds of inventions that could've flopped, and in certain cases did flop? To top that, taking the iPhone as an example, isn't it a piece of technology that allows us to create a sense of identity from it? I'm not just talking about using Shitstagram - the Samsung S7 has that plague of an app too - I'm talking about why we choose to buy an iPhone over a Samsung! 

Samsungs are clearly much better, far more advanced Korean technologies that trump the iPhone on many levels, but they do not trump the American design. And that is key! In the past month I've had conversations with two of my friends who agree that Samsungs are better, but that they wouldn't change - "we're iPhone users, iPhones are cool!"

A part of my identity - a very minute part mind you - but certainly a part of it is definied by the "breakthrough" technology I use: in this case, the iPhone. Art helps us redefine our identities all the time and we, in turn, redefine art. 

However, the iPhone is no longer a breakthrough and that's why I placed it in inverted commas above. But, it still helps me define my identity. It still says: "I'm a bohemian hipster in search of things that make me seem more powerful, richer, more current than I actually am", hahah, just kidding, I am rich... In love, health and friendship. 

The iPhone is therefore no longer cutting edge, yet it still holds characteristics that I would define as art. 

So what about Andy Warhols' imitations of himself? What about 'Star Wars: Episode VII'? The latter is a perfect example of this. Take John Williams' fantastic Oscar nominated score for it: it is nothing new, it may be seen as an imitation of his previous work on the Star Wars franchise, though it still brings tears to my eyes nonetheless - made me cry like a little boy just now on this flight to Doha, right before I started writing this entry, on my iPhone... (It was my fifth viewing since it came out by the way 😎). 

In other words, art is many things: combat, war - you certainly do not know if those things will be a success either, and there is certainly an element of performativity to fighting. It is closely related to our egos and how we see ourselves.

Speaking of performativity, that's where I would categories part 4 of my view on art: an element of performativity (Pardon me for not mentioning this in my introduction even after editing this; I want whoever's reading this to know that I was thinking about all of this as I was writing and that I wrote it all in one sitting; this is an attempt at preserving my train of thought in its purest form). And this is where it gets really interesting, because if there is an element of performativity, all art becomes more intriguing - no one cares for a musician that sings his music without heart! (Note that Seth Godin could've made a similar argument for the musician that plays his music in his room, to himself, until the day he dies - I would also agree with him there, though I like taking this route into the conversation, by closely connecting performativity to passion.)

But, from that perspective, we're back to square one, and if you wash your dishes with this element of performativity, you've created a work of art. I wasn't the first to think of this, so that's why you have Performance Art. And trust me, everything you can think of has been done already: there was even this fantastic piece where an audience gathered round to see someone get shot in a non-lethal spot - there were many ways in which that could've gone wrong... 

So there we are, I conclude life that is far from black & white and that art is even farther - so far, it creates new colors - and I can define art by categorising it into 4 key elements: 

 

1) Art is something that expresses meanings, feelings or ideas; alternatively, it invokes these in the viewer, or provokes change, reaction or thought. 

2) Art is something new and its creator does not know whether it will succeed, but he's going to try it anyway. 

3) Art is not black and white, or rather, art is not black or white, meaning it can't ever only be one thing, it is always multi-layered and it means different things to different people.

4) Art always has an element of performativity. This one is debatable, but then again, so is everything - I'd say even an art gallery and its artist has an element of performativity, the gallery, the artist, the audience, all coming together to create this fabric of performativity, as a whole and as individual entities - hell, I'd say most things in life are performed, even our genders! (Oooooh awesome conversation to be had right there.) This goes right back to Seth Godin's point about colliding with the world. I think the collision comes from creating a connection to the world and the audience. I even think the level of collision itself may be put on a spectrum. I also think performativity may be put on a spectrum, like art itself, and the level of performativity of the art under consideration is connected to the kind of collision the artist is having with the world. In Andy Warhol's case, his collision and his performativity was defined by the way his art was presented to the world. Anything in an art gallery or in the realm of the visual arts, may or may not have a smaller level of performativity to it, when compared to something in the realm of the performing arts; nevertheless, everything has an element of performance to it at its foundation. However, this does not mean I think everything is art to a certain extent, nor do I think everything has art at its foundation. 

 

There is something I said in part 3) that I hadn't mentioned before in this entry: art always means different things to different people. This is the most important thing I've written down. This is what makes art beautiful, along with our abilities to judge, analyse and decide what we consider art. If we're talking about 'The Death of the Author' (check out Roland Barthes), or creation versus imitation, here's additional beauty for you: even this subject is subjective; even part 2) of my definition is a spectrum in itself. Do you define art as new art because it is new within its already existing category or genre, or because it has created a new category in itself? 

Even something as magnificent, tried, tested and blockbustered as 'Star Wars: Episode VII' had its chances of being a gigantic flop - we can't ever know what our audience is going to think, and we cannot make people like us or our work. So in other words, art is far broader than even Seth Godin made it out to be, and it should be a genuine pleasure to decide for ourselves what we consider art and what we don't, what we consider good art and what we don't, and what we consider great