Glasgow MOMA


Is this art?

We had a brief discussion, on this very topic, with my family at the weekend. What is art? Does it have to be something that, obviously, has taken some skill to put together? Or can any old ‘installation’ be classed as art? Does the content of the ‘object’ actually matter, or is the art purely in the implication and your reaction to what is presented before you.

Is it the un-made bed or the fact that it’s being presented as art, that makes it ‘art’. Can something be considered ‘artful’ if all it’s really doing is making you think? Doesn’t there have to be an impression, a respect, an understanding that it took someone of skill, knowledge, and inspiration to produce what you are viewing?

I recall a visit to the Tate Modern to see Marsyas and being impressed with this huge piece of art. Looking back I now wonder if it wasn’t simply the size of the installation itself, swooping away up to the ceiling, that impressed, more than the basic fundamentals (colour, shape etc).

Of course, all art is subjective, and I guess everyone know what THEY like.

(yes, I’m going to be posting photos here more often I think.. maybe.. grand plans and all that..)

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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That is art.

An unmade bed is not art.

Neither is a cow in formaldehyde.

Art makes a statement. Sometimes. Making a statement doesn’t make art.

It’s all grey areas I know, but the more you have to explain to me why it’s art, the less it’s art. The less I understand it to be art, even if you are explaining it, even more so the less it’s art.

Did you ever see the play “Art” when it was on? Did it come to Glasgow? There was a lot in that about “art” when the one friend buys a painting of white stripes on white canvas.

The thing is I don’t really know what art is, but I do know when to call bullshit.

You’re setting up a dichotomy here between skill and installation as the deciding factor. Like many either/or combinations, I think that’s too simplistic.

Skill alone isn’t enough. Skill with a paintbrush doesn’t make art, as my bedroom wall can demonstrate.

Skill needs context. It’s only when the paintbrush does a certain thing and then presents it in a certain way that it starts to become art.

Equally, an unmade bed in itself is not art, but with context (i.e. presenting it as an installation), it stands a chance of becoming art.

Context is what makes art, like hanging a urinal on an art gallery wall and asking you to relate to it in a fundamentally different way (not pissing in it, for a start).

Art is fundamentally a mental concept and in my view context is what elevates it from the more mundane mechanics of creative skill.

I don’t know who the piece you’ve photographed is by, but it’s very reminiscent of Stanley Spencer’s set of pieces about war-time steelworkers and the like.

To me, yes, that is art.

I won’t try to make the same argument as Adrian, that art depends on skill – although from a personal perspective I prefer ‘art’ in the more traditional formats: painting, sculpture, literature, etc. Maybe that just shows that I’m sticking to the preconceptions of what art ‘is’.

Do I see the cow-in-formaldehyde, or the sub-made-of-bricks as art? No, probably not. But at the same time, yes, I can see that they can be perceived as Art. As Gordon said, I loved Marsyas when it was at Tate Modern, and yet that apparently is filed under ‘installation’ rather than ‘sculpture’.

So really, I dunno. I think that one’s perception of Art is entirely that – one’s perception. One man’s Van Gogh is another man’s Damien Hirst. And vice versa.

I think that if you decide something is Art, then it is.

Best definition of art I heard came from Alex which was something like:

Something that you’re glad exists, regardless of wether you like it. And obviously, which isn’t already something else instead.

An unmade bed is just an unmade bed. An unmade bed in an art gallery isn’t really a bed in the practical sense and it’s pretentious nonsense, but I’m glad that there’s someone wanting to put unmade beds into art galleries.

One of the more interesting pieces of, er, art, at Tate Modern down in London is “An Oak Tree” by Michael Craig-Martin:

… I quite like it for provoking much of the above, ie. what constitutes art? I don’t define art as “must be framable” or anything like that. I simply enjoy being challenged by what an artist presents as art. It’s all about statements, presentation, and reactions (of myself and others) to me. If it’s crap, I’ll say as much ๐Ÿ™‚

On another (related) matter, did you ask/seek permission about taking photos, or did you sneak it? Just wondered as I got directed to the press office at Glasgow council, who said I could use low-res photos on personal websites, but not for community sites such as, erm, flickr. I think it’s overly restrictive. Just wondered if you’d found out anything?

Oh, and check out the FAlbum wordpress plugin (See pictures tab at my website for an example). Marvellous flickr integration into WordPress.

Richard – great reference to The Oak Tree, I’d seen that a few years ago but forgotten about it.

Let me have another go at making the bed (into art). By taking the bed out of its usual context and putting into an art gallery, the artist asks you to look at it in a very different way.

You start looking at form rather than function and noticing the way the sheets folds, or the colours contrast, or whatever. The artist elevates the mundane by changing your relationship with it.

Then you consider the wider concept of the unmade bed as metaphor for the artist’s life, maybe for your own life, possibly even for modern life in general. You start to think about unmadeness in a different way entirely.

I’m using the bed as a fairly well-known example, but let’s go even more mainstream and traditional. We’ve all at some point sat on the bus or train opposite a woman with a faint, wry, slightly bitter smile.

We didn’t really pay her much attention at all. Possibly even got off at our stop without having even noticed her. And yet, the Mona Lisa is one of the world’s most treasured artworks. What made that happen?

Partly the artistry of the paintwork, granted, but partly the fact that, taken out of context, we are encouraged to really concentrate on her. The art isn’t in the picture, it’s in what goes on in the brain when you look at it.

I suppose what I’m saying is that essentially the magic pixie dust of art is sprinkled onto things (including beds) to make us look at them properly. Opening Blake’s doors of perception, Zen mindfulness, that kind of thing.

Paddy Dunn says:

… outward object that attracts your imaginatin to the extent you can’t get enough of it. Everytime you engage it it fills you up with what you can’t exactly put into words and everytime you try they fall short of their target.
Observed in such a way. Art appears to be the matchmaker bringing together animate and inamimate in a ritual of strange inexplicable facination.
If this ain’t happening it ain’t art.
Aniela Jaffe did not say this. Ha!

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