Chapter two

What is Art?

     Is art really anything that we want it to be, or are there qualifications that must be met in order for something to be considered a  work of art?  Let me answer the question plainly:  Some things that are called art are not art at all.  They are just things on a wall or a pedestal in a museum or  gallery.  A hammer is not a work of art.  It is a utilitarian object designed to drive nails.  Placing it on a pedestal under plexiglass doesn't make it a piece of sculpture.  Visual art is created for the purpose of being a work of art.  Found objects may certainly be displayed in order to make a statement, but the act of displaying the object is a work of (performance) art, not the object being displayed.  I recently read that Marcel Duchamp's Urinal was voted the most influential work of modern art of all time, whatever that means!  In case you aren't familiar with it, in 1917 this man took an ordinary urinal, signed it, and put it on display as a piece of sculpture.  It was not a work of art, sculpture or otherwise.  It was still just a urinal.  Now, had Duchamp made some kind of social  comment?  Yes, of course.  Had he created a work of art?  Not even close.  If I find a dead 'possum in the street and place it on a dinner plate, can I call myself a chef?  Are you going to look at it as the fools who look at Duchamp's "art" and say, "Maahvelous, Daahling!"?  I don't think so.  But what if it was something that he actually created?

     Many works of art are, by definition, "art", but just not very good.  For example, Mose T's art is art, but it is very bad art.  Just because he is a nice man who does the best he can, doesn't mean that what he is making is good. My Daddy was a nice man, too,  but his paintings were awful.  Look at it this way:  If you went to a ballet or an opera and saw people who performed exactly as if they were 3 years old, would you rave on about how quaint the performance was?  I don't think so.  Why, then, do we think that adult art that looks as if it was done by a 3-year-old is so wonderful?  Why can we see the point so easily as it applies to performing arts but not when it applies to visual art?  Is the aforementioned 'possum-on-a-plate food?  Yes, you could survive on it.  Is it really bad food?  It is horrible food. How, then, do such awful pieces of "art" receive such wide acclaim? 

     It happens in the same way as in the tale of the emperor's new clothes.  If people can be intimidated into denying what their common sense tells them is true, then virtually anything can come to be regarded by the masses as legitimate.  I believe that in the story, it was  a child who first blurted out, "The emperor has no clothes!"  Just like the people in the tale who were afraid to say what was obviously true out of fear of reprisal, people today  try to make themselves believe that Duchamp, Tolliver, Pollock and others like them are great artists because to say otherwise will make one seem ignorant.  What, you might ask,  motivated people in the first place to begin calling junk "art"?  It was simply a spirit of rebellion against what was seen as an oppressive set of rules governing art.  I can certainly understand some of that.  Actually, this rebellious spirit didn't begin with the Impressionists in the late 19th century as many people believe.  You can see that kind of thing throughout European art since the Renaissance. Caravaggio was chastised for using ordinary-looking people as models for Biblical subjects.  Vermeer declined to blend his colors, choosing instead to leave large chunks of white in the highlights.  It was those who followed the Impressionists, however, who carried this rebellion to extremes.  I love some of the Impressionists work.  In some cases, though, I consider painters such as Manet  to be mediocre in ability. His Luncheon on the Grass was rejected for the same reasons that I would have rejected it:  It isn't a very good painting.  Pollock, on the other hand, is just a bad joke.  Pollock splatters paint all over a canvas on the floor and people just go gaga over it, calling him one of the greatest artists of all time.  I can imagine some drunk looking at it and exclaiming, "Thash Beeutiful! (hic)".And if that's not idiotically silly enough, a urinal is voted "The most influential work of modern art of all time".  I won't be surprised now if I go into a restaurant and hear the waiter say that today's special is possum road-kill. Think about it:  Can things really get any more stupid? Oh wait, they just did.  But that's another subject.  

 

Ballet Dancers

Pastel

Edgar Degas

 

Head of a King

Brass

Ife Culture, Nigeria

 

 

Three Musicians

Oil

Pablo Picasso

 

Saint Chapelle Cathedral

Gothic style, 1248 A.D.

Paris, France

 

 

Arnolfini Double Portrait

Oil, 1434

Jan van Eyck

 

 

Marilyn

Silkscreen

Andy Warhol

The Oxbow

Oil, 1836

Thomas Cole

Vietnam Memorial

Black Granite

Maya Lin

John Brown Going to His Hanging

Oil, 1942

Horace Pippin

The Thinker

Bronze

Woman Holding a Balance

Oil, 1664

Jan Vermeer

Andy Warhol and Friends

Buddha Statue

Malaysia

Dancer

Bronze

Edgar Degas

 

Francisco Goya

 

Francisco Goya

 

Flora on Sand

Watercolor

Paul Klee

Woman

House paint

Mose T

 

 

Self Portrait

House paint

Mose T

Mose T

Kiss

Edvard Munch

Kiss by the Window

Edvard Munch

Design

Pacific Northwest

Five Women

Pablo Picasso

Self-Portrait

Oil

Pablo Picasso

Zena

Oil

Pablo Picasso

The Polish Rider

Oil

Rembrandt or

William Drost

Venus de Milo

Marble

Roman

Head of a King

Brass, 13th Century

Nigeria

Head of a King

Head of a King

Woman

Wood

Nigeria