Monday, November 24, 2008

What is Art?

So, I asked an artist, and not any artist, but one of the best. He isn't keen on quotes, but he still answered my question. Here's the gist of the interview:

Fred Hinegardner: "What is art?"
Artist (whom I know at least one critic having been quoted as saying that he's one of the greatest artists alive. He was compared to Picasso, but I happen to know he is not a misogynist like Pablo. He has not been responsible for the deaths of four or more women. And personally, I believe he's a better artist than the egocentric Spaniard. I discussed this particular artist one time with another famous artist and ceramicist who, during the conversation, was currently using a Picasso original for an ash tray. I like that kind of stuff. His attitude about Picasso was the same as mine.): "I can't define art."
Fred: "But you're an artist. One of the best."
Artist (one of the best): "Whatever."
Fred: "If you won't define art, who will?"
Artist: "Art can't be defined."

Well, I went to Webster's Dictionary. They weren't as modest - they had a clear definition. Who can argue with Webster's?

Art - the conscious use of skill and creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic objects and the works so produced.

Artistic - showing imaginative skill in arrangement or execution, as in artistic photography.

Artsy, Arty - showily or pretentiously artistic, as in arty lighting and artsy photography.

Artless - Natural, free from artificiality. Free from guile or craft.

I think it's interesting that many sources make a simple distinction between man and nature, where man is considered artificial and nature is considered natural. They contrast art and nature. They consider them to be mutually exclusive.

I'm reminded of a print competition where I sat in on the judging of one of my images. It was shot outdoors with a a 500mm lens mounted to a Hasselblad. There was no artificial lighting. I didn't even use reflectors. One judge tried to destroy the image by saying, "There's too much artificial light in this photo. We all know that nature has only one light source. This image has, to my count, four light sources. The maker had ruined what could have been a very nice and natural scene by introducing light from too many directions. After the judging, I examined my print more closely. There were indeed four light sources, from four different directions. But I didn't cause any of them. Oh, well.

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