Since the turn of the last century this question has been asked over and over again. Yes, but is it art? 60 minutes with Morley Safer has asked this question many times during the Art Beat section of the show. The questions are always, what is art? What is good art? And who decides has been plaguing many of us for centuries and more so in the modern era of art.
In our modern era it seems anything can be claimed as art. Thus as art critic Arthur Dano states many of us are wary of where artists, art critics and art mavens are leading us. Thomas McEvilley, Professor of Art History at Rice University relates about visiting a place called the Media Center in Houston where he saw posts set up as in a backyard with laundry hung all over. He said he knew it was art by where it was exhibited, but if seen in someone’s backyard he would not have known it was art, though it might have been art. His understanding was if it is called art, then it is art.
This was much like my experience during an Art History class where the Professor put up slides of contemporary art and lectured on its merits as art. One slide was quite muddled as to what it really was. It was only after staring at it for some time that I discerned that it was a room that had been filled with soil, dirt. My question was what was the purpose? The Professor said that it was to spark discussion. “Of what?” Said I. “Doesn’t make you question the purpose of dirt?” My reply was no. I know the purpose of dirt – its best used for growing grass, plants, food along with good irrigation. Not for filling rooms with two feet high of dirt. Besides no housekeeper would allow two feet of dirt accumulate in any room of their home. If the artist really wanted to spark discussion he or she should have planted a plant of some sort in the middle of the room showing footsteps going in but not coming out.
Therefore, my thoughts were – is it truly art if it can’t transition out of the art gallery or museum? If it can’t be exhibited in a home, office or public setting without confusion, is it really art? Also, can it stand the test of time?
How many would buy a toilet or urinal to display as art in their homes and not in the bathroom? While such a piece could be considered art within an art exhibit, could it transition from gallery exhibit to a residential display? Or could the name of the artist be enough? What about the unknown or emerging artist? Would you take the risk that this work of “Art” would stand the test of time?
In 1917 Marcel DuChamp entered the “Fountain” for exhibit under the name R. Mutt, (This was obvious to most artists that DuChamp was making a joke), which is now lost. There are many suppositions as to what happened to the Fountain, but no conclusive data. The work is regarded by art historians and theorists of the avant-garde, such as Peter Bürger, as a major landmark in 20th-century art. 17 replicas commissioned by Duchamp in the 1960s now exist.[i] However, “Fountain” is quintessential example of what DuChamp called readymade art. [iii] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573/text-summary
He tested this idea by entering it in for exhibit at Society of Independent Artists[ii] after a discussion with collector Walter Arensberg and artist Joseph Stella. The society’s board of directors, who were bound by the Society’s constitution to accept all members’ submissions, took exception to Fountain, believing that a piece of sanitary ware – and one associated with bodily waste – could not be considered a work of art and furthermore was indecent.[iii]
In many ways DuChamp was correct that we are surrounded by art. Before, items are mass produced someone had to design and create the object we use every day. From the chairs we sit on to the automobiles we drive. The dishes we eat off of to the clothes we wear. All at one time were imagined and created first as works of art. These items are considered functional art. Art that we use. We do not look at this art for inspiration, or as thought provoking or just for the beauty of the art. Or do we?
I leave you with these thoughts and look forward to hearing from you about what your thoughts are on art.
[i] “An Overview of the Seventeen Known Versions of Fountain”. 2007. Retrieved 2014-06-09. Overview of the Seventeen Known Versions of Fountain”. 2007. Retrieved 2014-06-09.
[ii] Marcel Duchamp was one of the Founders of the Society along with Walter Arensburg.
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