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What is Art? 

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What is ART?

Recently the Sunday Telegraph reported that the Tories plan to abolish The Arts Council because much of the £200 million distributed is wasted, with up to 34% of the budget being spent on administration.

This started the old brain working, and thinking about what is Art? And similarly what is Literature? These are important questions as the answers affect the education of children and how the Art's and Literature grants are distributed. Firstly I shall admit not to being knowledge-able about either, but as in the old cliché "I know what I like" and am a self proclaimed philistine on both subjects.

Lets consider Art first (Definition from Encarta Online Dictionary)

art 1 [aart ] noun (plural arts) 
1. creation of beautiful things: the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works, for example, in painting, music, or writing
2. beautiful objects: beautiful or thought-provoking works produced through creative activity
3. branch of art: a branch or category of art, especially one of the visual arts
4. artistic skill: the skill and technique involved in producing visual representations
5. study of art: the study of a branch of the visual arts
6. creation by humans: creation by human endeavour rather than by nature
7. techniques or craft: the techniques used by somebody in a particular field, or the use of those techniques the art of the typographer 
8. ability: the skill or ability to do something well
9. cunning: the ability to achieve things by deceitful or cunning methods (literary) 
plural noun arts
1. forms of creative beauty: the activities enjoyed for the beauty they create or the way they present ideas, for example, painting, music, and literature
2. nonscientific subjects: nonscientific and nontechnical subjects at school or college[13th century. Via French from the Latin stem art- "skill" (source of English artisan and artificial). Ultimately from an Indo-European word meaning "to fit together."]
have something down to a fine art to be able to do something very skillfully

From the above it seems that Art is by definition from 1. and 2. above to do with beautiful or thought-provoking works. This does not really help to give us a definitive answer to our question, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in that case almost anything however ugly could be beautiful to someone and hence defined as Art. Obviously this not correct so we must narrow our question to: what is good art? 
Once this is done the objective rules that a strict definition enables have gone and now a subjective view predominates. The decision as to what is good art is now left to a few educated in these matters and the newspaper art correspondents and critics. Is it now that they lead and the sheep follow?

Obviously there is good Art that can be defined by our original definitions, most of the great masters of painting and sculpture are in that category but the area of art that raises most controversy and heated discussion is probably modern art. We have all probably seen or heard of: the pile of bricks, the untidy workshop bench (by I believe Fischili and Wiess, the plain blue canvas (possibly IKB 79 by Yves Klien) and other such great works of modern art. Who decides that they are great works of art and worthy of our money and space inside or on the walls of the Tate? Who writes the tributes describing each work? I suppose it must be the curator of the Tate and probably some committee of so said art lovers and experts who must have the final say as to what is good modern art and hence have our money invested/wasted on it. Having an enquiring mind and not wanting to be accused of being biased I ventured into the depths of Tate Modern to have a look and form an observed opinion. I spent a very interesting Sunday afternoon inside the free bit of Tate modern and I must admit my prejudices have changed and also confirmed by my experience there.

There is some in my opinion wonderful modern art that deserves every penny and more that we have spent, but equally some of the exhibits are beyond belief and in my humble opinion, are just an untidy table and a plain blue canvas no matter how hard I looked. Those are just two examples of many that are "just taking the piss"
As I have said earlier to the few educated art scholars etc, these works may mean something, but to the normal man/woman they could only be an untidy table and a plain blue canvas no matter how hard we try to see more. Are we missing something? Is the answer of the: "if you cannot read you cannot appreciate a book" but in this case what is it we need to know? In terms of the great works of Art the original definitions applies and most people are able to distinguish and appreciate them as works of art. But how do we define the more obscure works of modern art. What make that particular blue canvas a work of art, compared to a child's background painting in a similar colour. You may even argue that the child's picture is more worthy of the title as he or she may be stretching the limits of their creativity, but I think I could be accused of a similar pretension in terms of defining good art! Why is the untidy table in the Tate a work of art, but not my untidy workshop table in my garage at home?

I would like to propose a simple answer to the above question: what is Art?

I believe the dictionary is right in terms of its definition in terms of: works of beauty or of a thought-provoking nature 
This definition covers most of art but falls down in the extremes of modern art. You may argue that the examples of the blue canvas and kitchen table were thought provoking, but that is only the case if you give them the attributes of art. If you had placed them in the high street, the council would have been round almost immediately and removed the workbench, as it would have probably posed a health and safety risk, and in the case of the blue canvas no-body would probably have given it a second look. The fact of calling it art should not make it so.
Therefore we the common folk must be lacking in something, is it education? Thus, these seemingly wondrous works of art pass us by untouched and unmoved. The only feelings that are probably stirred are ridicule and contempt for regarding such rubbish as art. So where is the large public campaign to educate the masses about modern art? I have not seen any article in any of the press, popular or serious trying to justify such works. But pages and pages are written on art in the Sunday Papers. All of it passes me by the end of the first paragraph and hence re-enforcing my views on modern art.

So here is the challenge, will someone explain to me how you define modern art? There must be some rules/regulations as some of the critics/pundits agree.

The laws of universe are regulated by the physics that we understand today based upon objective measurement and calculation.
As many critics/academics (are there many?) agree on great works of modern art there must be a great deal of objective assessment. 

Please let us the common plebeian, in on your secrets. Or is that if the mystery is exposed it will all be seen as the most extensive and expensive con of all time!

If you agree, disagree or have strong views about art please let me know. Contact by FAX or phone numbers on the header above or by email to

Next time we shall look at literature. If you have any thoughts on that please contact me.




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