Sunday, August 24, 2008

Art is Art

In this morning's paper there was an article about a robotic chair that autonomously falls to pieces and then reassembles itself. It is being exhibited around the country in galleries and after the tour will be sold to a collector.

This is an example of what bothers me about the state of the art world today. "Art" is a broad term that covers many areas of creative endeavor but it seems me that its meaning is being broadened too far. Communication through language depends on words having meaning. They tell the listener or reader what something is and, by default, all else that it is not. In recent years I have heard almost everything including politics, sports and cooking described as "art". There are books on the Art of War and the Art of The {business} Deal. An Amazon search for books on "The Art of..." returns 1,293,083 matches.

Then there are those galleries, museums & grant foundations that exhibit and/or present awards to "installations" such as a folding table with overflowing ash trays and empty beer cans. Think Damien Hirst in a London Gallery. If a thing contains any one element, even peripherally, of the definition of art then it is deemed "Art". Worse, the distinctions between the various forms of art are being demolished. The dark scribblings of a drug addict trying to work through his/her addiction via art therapy are held on a par with the work of a trained professional painter, indeed in some venues they are valued higher because they are untrained and the "Art" they produce is therefore not derivative, a bad thing to be in the art world but inevitable to some degree for those artists who made the error of actually studying art.

With the robotic chair we have an engineering project hailed and exhibited as a work of Fine Art, worthy of exhibit in galleries and collection by an art collector. It is novel, creative in a mechanical sense and probably fascinating to watch it do its thing, but is it really "Art"? It seems to me that when the meaning of the word art stretches to include anything and everything we choose to apply it to, it no longer has any meaning. If it can be applied to anything, it describes nothing. A word that describes nothing is useless for communicating what something is. OTOH using the same rational by which the article concludes that the robotic chair is art, "It has no utilitarian value," D'Andrea said. "It is an art piece", one could argue that the word "art" itself is art. The ultimate self-referential work.

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