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
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
3. branch of art: a branch or category of art, especially one of the visual
4. artistic skill: the skill and technique involved in producing visual
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
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
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
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
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.