Alright, let me just start off by saying, I don’t watch that much TV but I happened to be channel surfing and came across an episode of “Bob’s Burgers”. The episode was titled “Art Crawl”. Okay, you’ve got my attention. I bit the bullet and watched the episode in it’s entirety and it got me thinking about the age-old question of “but is it art?”
In the episode, the city where the show is set is gearing up for the annual art crawl. Most cities host something like this, I’ve actually been to quite a few. The whole premise of the show is a disagreement between Bob and the chairlady for the art crawl, Edith.
Bob can’t believe people are willing to pay $200 for what he sees as “amateur crap” (ie still lifes, landscapes, etc.) but when his wife’s sister, Gayle, hangs her artistic interpretations of animal anuses in his restaurant, he unwittingly causes a feud:
I found this episode amusing for a number of reasons, but mostly because, as an artist, I’ve been trying to define “art” for as long as I’ve been painting.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, art is the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects. This is one of six definitions in their dictionary but it’s the one I found most applicable to define what I do.
“Mona Lisa”, Leonardo da Vinci, 1506
While most people will mostly concur that well known paintings like the Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci) (pictured at right) and Starry Night (Vincent van Gogh) are art, where do we draw the line? I wouldn’t necessarily consider paintings of animal anuses “art” but I would value them for starting a conversation, and isn’t that really what art is? A conversation?
Why is da Vinci considered one of, if not the foremost master of fine art but artists such as Andres Serrano (Piss Christ) (pictured below) and Robert Mapplethorpe (Man in a Polyester Suit), are considered by the mainstream community to be, among other things, “perverse”, “blasphemous”, and “pornographic”?
“Piss Christ”, Andres Serrano, 1987
Now, don’t get me wrong, Mapplethorpe is DEFINITELY an acquired taste. I don’t necessarily value him as an artist, but he made me think, he made me question what for me, is art and where does the line between “artistic nude” blur into “pornography”. Personally, I find him pretty 50-50 on the art/pornography debate but I also don’t think nudity and sexuality is something we should be ashamed of.
As for Serrano, I’ve always found something beautiful and strangely ethereal about “Piss Christ”. The artist himself has said that his photograph, of a small crucifix suspended in a jar of his own bodily fluids to be an a symbol of religious ambiguity and commercialization of religious iconography in the current century.
As someone who was born and raised Catholic, albeit non-practicing, it speaks to me on a deeply personal level, one trying to not only identify, but reconcile my faith with my art, as well as my life. I respect it for making me think, and making me question, but I’m also kinda grossed out by the thought of using bodily fluids in one’s work. It’s not something I would ever do, but I think it takes a certain amount of courage to not only do so, but to put it out there and stand by it as art!
I think that’s the most important thing in determining whether something is art or not- CONVICTION! If you cannot stand by your own work and defend it, how do you expect others to understand, accept, and tout it thusly?
“The Fountain”, Marcel Duchamp, 1917
When I started in a formal art program (2006), I didn’t know any artists other than the “masters”- da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, Picasso, van Gogh, etc. I thought that contemporary art, modern art, etc. was stupid and pointless. How could I consider Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” art? It was a urinal he autographed!
I had to keep an open mind, I had to question, I had to push the boundaries of what my conservative upbringing considered “acceptable”.
— I may not know art but I know what I like. —
I see art as a historical thing, I see it as a scientific thing. There’s as much method as there is madness. It’s as much a tool as it is an end. It’s symbolic. It’s cathartic. It’s religious. It’s blasphemous. It’s documented revolutions and caused them. It’s been banned, it’s been burned, it’s been hidden and censored.
Art is there to challenge us.
We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. — Pablo Picasso