Friday, December 26, 2008

Art for Art's Sake

A few years back, in a discussion thread on a site that I can't remember, someone was discussing an art show in which one of the pieces was a bathroom urinal. and was wondering whether a urinal could really be considered a work of "art." I've never been much interested in art "theory" myself, so most of the discussion was either too boring or too complicated (same thing really, I guess) for me to bother with. Being a helpful sort of guy by nature, though, I eventually piped in with the suggestion that, while it's quite possible for a urinal to be a work of art, as soon as someone takes a piss in it it's just a urinal.

Related to the above (in fact, damn near the same thing), I recall a heated conversation I once had with a good friend who was very interested in the latest fashion trends, and would often argue that fashion was a form of art. Probably the only thing I find more annoying than a discussion on art theory is a discussion about fashion. Or so I thought up until that point. This was a discussion about art theory and fashion. Anyway, my friend, growing somewhat exasperated with me (unfashionable, non-artistic rube that I am), finally asked me if I thought it were possible for a coat made out of meat to be a work of art. (Really, it makes me wonder sometimes. Urinals, coats made out of meat--can these people not think of better examples to make their points? I can imagine one of these art theory/fashion-world types working in an appliance store and, in a spiel on the efficiency of gas stoves, managing to drop Hitler's name.) "A coat made out of meat?" I replied. "Sure, that could be art. Until someone put it on."


  1. ...or ate it, I suppose.

    But seriously, the whole point of the "urinal as art" thing (which was done, incidentally, almost 100 years ago now) was to ask and answer the very same questions you are asking now. Can anything be art? If so, does that also mean nothing is art? I think the answer Marcel Duchamp's urinal was trying to send the pretentious art world was, simply, "shut up already." Which is why I think Marcel Duchamp was pretty awesome.

    (Sorry, in a former life I held a degree in Fine Arts with a minor in Art History, and it still pops to the surface every now and then.)

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for your informed comment. And seriously, I was only half-serious about "these people" (I had a lot of art school friends when I was still in Canada).

    I really have no beef (heh) with anyone who's trying to create something they believe is beautiful and/or stimulating (or even *useful*). Sometimes, though, I think too many words are spent trying to *define* what is beautiful and/or stimulating. What works for me might not work for you, etc.

    Of course I have my own (somewhat half-formed and mostly uninformed!) ideas about art, however awkwardly expressed. I'll likely post more in the hope that you and others will comment and I can learn!

  3. People spend too much time trying to decide what is art and what isn't. If someone creates something, anything, with the intention of it being art, it's art, I figure. I've never understood how a piece needs to be of a certain quality before it can be considered art. There's such a thing as stupid, ugly art, but it's still art if they want it to be.

    Though I love your urinal response, hilarious.

  4. Thank you, Rick. I'm sort of going with the old school "uplifting" for art (which is very unfashionable now). The other stuff, as far as I am intolerantly concerned, is just a lot of posing.

    Good point about Duchamp, though - the thing is, people seem to be doing nothing but REPEAT the point over and over again these days, esp. Messrs. Hirst and Koons. We get it, already.

    Honestly, I find I'm burned out on art in its form of social criticism, because the horse, if not deceased, is in a deep coma.

    Hope this is not too disjointed.

  5. "until someone puts it on" - and becomes a lion's dinner. And let's face it, a lion eating the person in the coat of meat, would be considered to be "art" by some too.
    It's all perspective, all in the eye of the beholder - that's the wonderful thing about "art" - you can construct and deconstruct at will. Everything and nothing is as it seems. Eye of the beholder and all that stuff and, of course, the "reality" that all is illusion anyway.
    Now, whaddayasay to that?! ;-)

  6. I suppose you cant get your BFA with a thesis that says,

    "Art is what blows your skirt up"

    Thanks ArtSparker for the cool link. Great to see some ...meaty.... discussion with the cheerleading pom poms left in the cupboard.

  7. Rob,
    I take your point: even "bad" art (however defined) would still seem to be "art," the same way bad music is still music, etc.

    I consider myself to be a bit "old school" on this topic myself. I find Keats to be rather helpful: if it's true, it's beautiful, and vice versa. Of course Keats isn't talking about "factual" truth (like on the news or something); he's referring (I think) to some kind of human truth that art can make known to us (and that e.g. science can't--although I would never for a second dismiss the truths of the universe that science illuminates for us).

    Huh? ;-)
    Heh, for the "art" part, see the above comment to ArtSparker. For the "philosophy" part--that's a whole 'nother discussion!

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.
    If I'd known that skirts were being "uplifted" at art schools I might have reconsidered my own educational choices! ;-)