If you’re following me on social media you may have noticed one of my favorite hashtags popping up from time to time on posts of things that I find artful, inspiring and alluring…
So is it? Isn’t it? Who gets to decide?
I have to assume that at some point in time this meme came quietly out of an art school, directly after someone’s scathing critique.
Picture seven or eight students sitting in a semi-circle… a piece of art produced by each of them hung on the wall for discussion… inspection… slaughter…
Does it say enough?
Is it well crafted?
The perfect balance of subtle and in-your-face?
How about the composition?
Use of color?
Is it art?
Then every student and teacher present weigh-ins and shares their opinion – their critique – of the work before them. And hopefully, you don’t get ripped apart, but you know, it happens.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve been told that my art… isn’t art. Total gut-punch, to say the least.
It’s an age old debate, really. Is it art? And what makes it so?
Is it art because an art teacher says it is? Because a gallerist wants to show it? Because the artist calls it art? Because it’s beautiful?
But what if it’s hideous? Does art have to be beautiful to be art?
Side note: Beauty is HELLA subjective.
Let’s cut to the chase…
Art is art because it is intentional.
Because it is intended to be art.
And not just a little intentional – intentional as hell.
Every layer of paint or clay or graphite has intention and meaning, story and purpose, seeping with interpretation by the artist themselves.
As far as I’ve learned, intention is line in the sand because let’s face it, you can get great visuals by accident. But is it art?
My journey to acquire a Bachelors of Fine Art started at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD). I spent two years at the school before transferring to the Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) to finish my degree.
During my first year up in Columbus our design teacher Tim took us to an exhibit in the city, at a gallery I’d never heard of, showing a series of conceptual art pieces.
I wasn’t entirely sure what “conceptual” meant until we got there, but once I encountered a literal pile of dirt on a white platform near the back of the exhibition I started to understand that art wasn’t just about visuals… it could be about ideas alone.
A single pile of dirt, on a white platform. And it was art.
I was so confused.
Tim stood next to the piece and asked our group, “Do you think this is art?”
A few people gave a resounding “Hell no!”
Others mumbled, “Yes,” unsure.
A few stayed silent, ready to listen…
Before you knew it, a riveting debate was afoot – Was it art? Was it not? Why not? Why yes?
But the verdict was clear… despite being completely outside of the realm of painting, drawing, sculpture or any other traditional art medium… it was art.
The pile of dirt represented the absence of the dirt elsewhere in world; the place from which it was taken.
And that place was significant, because it was the construction site of a water well being built in a third-world country for a small village of women who has escaped their war-torn homes. Or something to that effect, I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the details.
But it was art!
Because there were layers of intention placed upon it’s existence by the artist.
There was meaning beyond aesthetics. There was concept.
And then there were some images and plaques to accompany the viewer in coming to that conclusion.
My little freshman mind was blown.
Maybe yours is too.
So if you’re out there reading this and you’ve ever felt like you simply don’t understand art, I hope I gave you clarity instead of more confusion.
Art is both simple and complex.
The very definition of what are experiencing when we engage with art is elusive, and subjective and vastly different from person to person, because the lenses through which we each view the world are vastly different – colored by our experiences.
But the point I want you to take away from me is this…
Whether you’re making art, or viewing art, or collecting art… it is art, if it is intended to be art.
That’s my definition anyway.