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  1.  (1860.1)
    (Lengthy, but I thought it might be worth posting here as I keep having this discussion with everybody I talk to this week)

    The internet is all abuzz this week about Aliza Shvarts, a Yale student who issued a press release claiming that she artificially inseminated herself, then took various herbs in order to induce a miscarriage. Repeatedly. Yale responded with a release stating that Shvarts was a performance artists, and that her announcement had been the art piece, forcing people across the world into a discussion of what is and what isn’t art. Shvarts has since released another statement claiming that at least portions of her original statement are true.

    Which leads me to ask, like many other people across the world, just what defines art?

    My initial, instinctive, answer to that is, if someone created it and says that it’s art, it’s art. Tolstoy wrote a whole book on the subject. At one point, he says,

    Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications. To take the simplest example: a boy, having experienced, let us say, fear on encountering a wolf, relates that encounter; and, in order to evoke in others the feeling he has experienced, describes himself, his condition before the encounter, the surroundings, the woods, his own lightheartedness, and then the wolf's appearance, its movements, the distance between himself and the wolf, etc. All this, if only the boy, when telling the story, again experiences the feelings he had lived through and infects the hearers and compels them to feel what the narrator had experienced is art. If even the boy had not seen a wolf but had frequently been afraid of one, and if, wishing to evoke in others the fear he had felt, he invented an encounter with a wolf and recounted it so as to make his hearers share the feelings he experienced when he feared the world, that also would be art. And just in the same way it is art if a man, having experienced either the fear of suffering or the attraction of enjoyment (whether in reality or in imagination) expresses these feelings on canvas or in marble so that others are infected by them. And it is also art if a man feels or imagines to himself feelings of delight, gladness, sorrow, despair, courage, or despondency and the transition from one to another of these feelings, and expresses these feelings by sounds so that the hearers are infected by them and experience them as they were experienced by the composer.

    And later simplifies that to say,

    To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling - this is the activity of art.

    So by Tolstoy’s definition, we can say that anything that is created, with the intent to convey a feeling or emotion, is art.

    The problem lies in who gets to decide if that criteria has been met? The creator or the receiver? The creator knows his or her intent. After all, they did it. The receiver has to judge, something that by definition becomes subjective. How does this judgment take place? What tests can be administered? What lines are drawn here?

    And why does it matter?

    This is where we reach the slippery slope portion of the argument. You see, when people start talking about defining something as art or not art, it’s usually because they’ve found something calling itself art that they find offensive or objectionable. That something is usually on display somewhere, perhaps in a museum or a university. And it’s protected, because it’s calling itself art. If that label can be stripped from it, then it can be made to go away and offend no more. It’s a form of censorship.

    I understand the desire to do this. I’m like anyone else. I read an article about some bizarre piece of performance art, like hanging vials of blood from a tree, and I think it’s ridiculous. But I think allowing ourselves to be placed in the position of arbiters as to what is and isn’t art is a dangerous proposition that could eventually lead to the attempted suppression of unpopular ideas.

    Think I’m exaggerating? Remember Robert Maplethorpe?

    The minute we take it upon ourselves, as viewers/listeners/readers to decide if something is art, we’re giving that same power to other people who might wish to make sure that the things they don’t believe are art remain unseen, unheard or unread. And those people just might be in a position to do something about it.

    There are, of course, other ways to define art. Tolstoy is not the sole arbiter on that and neither am I. But the problem exists, no matter how you define it. Who determines if it meets the definition.

    I maintain that the only possible answer to that question HAS to be, the artist.
    • CommentTimeApr 19th 2008
    I maintain this stance, if your making art it is about your culture. If you are super educated then words have to be in play. If your not and it what academics deem as folk well to the academics then your a folk artist. In my eyes art is what you deem it as, my mother deems her fucking table clothe as art, not for money but for pure aesthetic.
    • CommentTimeApr 19th 2008
    Once more the great Simpsons hive mind came up with a good defininition.
    "I may not know art but I know what I hate and I don't hate this"

    Better thoughts will follow when not trying to learn how to tie a bow tie and memorise a stupid reading.
  2.  (1860.4)
    I will try hard not to make a snarky response because I've heard the argument about what art is and isn't way too many times. To me it's a bit overrated. Really, just about anything can be art. It doesn't mean we have to like it or even think it's great. I've seen what is, to me, really shitty art. It's still art.

    Instead of talking about "what is art" (for the who-knows-how-much-th time), why don't we talk about what moves us in art, or the directions art is going in, or how modern society is changing art and art is changing modern society. What the next big art movement might be.
  3.  (1860.5)
    What is Art is an old discussion. Older than any of us; and there will always be disagreements on it. It's what critics are for (and dadaists, to torment said critics).

    As to the next big art movement? I've been thinking of this for a while- and honestly? No clue.We've gone from realism to abstract and back again; so I don't think style will be it; which leads me to materials; perhaps a combination of technological stuff, and the internet.

    I have yet to see any decent manifestos or writing on post-modern art outside of the design era- and suspect it'll be designers who will do most of the documentation on it. Of course I might just not be looking in the right direction.
  4.  (1860.6)
    and dadaists, to torment said critics
    LOL, of course.

    I think the most recent movement in art would be Street Art. And that's be developing for a good 30/40 years. There has been technological + internet stuff (and a great mix of all three would be Graffiti Research Lab, the group that brings us LED throwies and Big Fucking Lasers).

    What would be the conditions required for the next big movement? For starters, a completely new way of thinking. I was asking my philosophy instructor about the next big event in Philosophy and he was saying an integration of Anglo/American and Continental thought. Or even more importantly, Western and Eastern thought. Also, the next big event in Science. Something has to come along that totally changes how we view things.

    And there's more questions but I'm risking being late for work.
  5.  (1860.7)
    I had a great class my freshman year of college. I was one of those "big plan" kids and I had all my courses picked out from the start of the year. I wanted my masters in 5 years, a doctorate by 30.

    Then one class I wanted, a history of philosophy course, was filled. I had to take a Philosophy class and the only one open was some fluffy sounding thing called "Art and Philosophy"

    Changed my life.

    The teacher was this very hip lady. She came off with the hippie stink at first, driving me away initially, until she started talking science. Color theory, evolutionary biology, chemistry as it related to painting. She dressed like a wilting flower child but there was some intellectual rigor under that ty-dye.

    Through the whole class she made a complex, but elegant point. Art is endeavor. I remember this quote in paticular.

    "We create so much as humans. Unlike ants who create to a single group purpose, or spiders who create to feed themselves, we create for many distinct reasons. Art happens when we endeavor. When we go beyond necessity and the utilitarian. It can come in the flourish of a painter, or the extra touch of craft a baker gives icing, The decorations on a cab are art, so too are portraits. When we make something for more than the purpose of the thing alone we are fully human in the face of unnecessity. That is how I see art."

    I had a tape of that for YEARS. Un-necessity is one of my favorite made-up words. I got alot messier after that class, found another major, read alot less hard non-fiction. Spent alot less time being the driver ant, more time trying to be human.
  6.  (1860.8)
    I think maybe the question should not be 'what is art?', but 'when is it art?'.

    Since no matter how elegant the definition, everyone's opinion will change. For example: "The decorations on a cab are art"... so is the cab to many, and to some I'm sure the chassis inside the cab is art to some....
    So we have to ask, is it art because the creator intends it to be so, or because the viewer decides it is so? If the answer is both, then something can be both art and not-art in different circumstances. Until a definitive and universally agreed meaning for the word art is decided upon, then 'art' is in a constant state of subjective flux.

    Personally I think it's exactly the fact that we can ask the question and still ponder the answer that makes art art. If 'art' were an easily quantifiable and objectively measurable quality, then it wouldn't have the social and personal significance that it does.
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeApr 19th 2008
    Question: Can a solution to a problem be considered art?
  7.  (1860.10)
    Until a definitive and universally agreed meaning for the word art is decided upon, then 'art' is in a constant state of subjective flux.
    I'll agree with you there. And I'll put forth that such a universally agreed meaning will never be decided due to cultural differences, and personal aesthetic values, among other reasons.
    • CommentAuthormarc
    • CommentTimeApr 19th 2008
    .....universally agreed meaning will never be decided due to cultural differences, and personal aesthetic values, among other reasons.e e

    This reminds me of when Giuliani tried to shut down the Brooklyn Museum because of the elephant shit Virgin Mary painting.

    Art in NYC at that time became Media Manipulation and advertising - they kinda merged. The underage porn movie photos advertising Calvin Klein (I believe) on the side of city buses was an example of this. There was a sculpture in Buffalo, NY made out of neon penises that was more about media and politics than anything else. In both cases, the artists got to show their work, there was strong media and political reaction (free advertising and publicity), and everyone got PAID. The works were there for a short time before they got pulled down. So what was the art?
  8.  (1860.12)
    @Paul Duffield: When is art - that seems about right. It seems to be more about the context than the thing itself these days (but then street art turns that upside down too). I'm quite fine with "what/when is art" being unknowable. What annoys me is the inevitable bitter artist who will claim "but ______ isn't art". And when I hear that statement I wait for them to complain about so and so making lots of money while they can't make any. (Amusingly, last Sunday I had coffee with a guy I was interested in, and he ended up doing the entire "that's not art" and then bitching about some artist making lots of money who in his mind didn't deserve to. And now I am no longer attracted to him.)
  9.  (1860.13)
    I was gonna keep my mouth shut, but... a few thoughts:

    Lawrence Weiner, Declaration of Intent (1968): "1. The artist may construct the piece. 2. The piece may be fabricated. 3. The piece need not be built. Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership"

    (Somewhat like Schroedinger and His Cat, Art, Artist and Receiver are an indeterminate yet interrelated system)

    Question: Can a solution to a problem be considered art?
    Yes. Especially if it solves a problem only the Artist perceived in the first place...

    To be Art it needs, on some level, to redefine your idea of Reality.
    (Which is also why Science Fiction and Art are related pursuits)

    Until a definitive and universally agreed meaning for the word art is decided upon, then 'art' is in a constant state of subjective flux.
    If it wasn't - it wouldn't be Art.

    Also, Craft/Technique - no mater how brilliant or innovative it may be - is not automatically Art. But the two are often confused with each other.

    Stendhal's syndrome
    (sten.DAWLZ sin.drum, -drohm) n. Dizziness, panic, paranoia, or madness caused by viewing too much Art.
    • CommentAuthormarc
    • CommentTimeApr 20th 2008 edited
    So, it turns out that Schvarts (spelling could be wrong) "duped" everyone. This is almost the same as what that artist in Buffalo and the ads on the sides of the NYC buses did. The art wasn't necessarily in the physical pieces of art, but in the ripples that they caused in other medium - politics and media and public opinion. So, yes, there was the actual "piece," but the art was in the reactions and the effects. It was not about the TANGIBLE part. It has moved beyond the physical. So in effect, it does redefine the idea of reality.
  10.  (1860.15)
    The art wasn't necessarily in the physical pieces of art, but in the ripples that they caused in other medium - politics and media and public opinion.

    The necessity for an actual physical artifact went out in the late 60s with the arrival of Conceptual Art. Context (and response) has been the real medium of much Art since then.The Process begun by the thing is where the Art resides, the "artifact" being either the original trigger (which need be only an Idea) or the documentation of the Response. But the Art doesn't reside in the artifact.

    Thinking about how Art is taught these days: A college student at the University of Alaska created a sculpture resembling a huge penis. It was displayed in a student art show, and created a furor. People were outraged, and the sculpture was first moved, then covered, then moved again, then removed entirely. The artist sincerely apologized for offending people.

    If there had been any real Art education at the University, I can think of a couple things that might have gone differently:
    - Knowing the history of 20th Century Art, the student would have realized that a Giant Penis was a cliche, if not a comedy prop.
    - He would never have apologized, and would have painstakingly documented the response to the Giant Penis thereby approaching Art - it would still be a cliche, but a far more sophisticated one. And for our neo-conservative times it would have been useful - if not entirely original - commentary.

    However, if the artist's intent was to shock the parents of his fellow students and then sheepishly say he was sorry for his immature impulses - then the piece was a complete Conceptual success.