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ART - What is it?

It is very difficult to define what art is exactly.  According to one definition art is: ”Objects or ideas created by humans which tell/show what we are thinking or feeling.  Art may or may not be beautiful.  Art may or may not look like something we know (recognize).  Art includes painting, sculpture, architecture, music, performance, dance, and acting (drama).”  I can tell you this much: art is something you can’t argue with.  You can’t take the f----er outside.  Unless it’s an outside art. 

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of ”misunderstood” art was Marcel Duchamp’s ”Fountain” which was a men’s urinal turned upside down with words ”R. Mutt 1917” painted on it.  What did it mean?  One could argue that defining and identifying Art in contemporary Western society is a function of art’s institutional structures such as the museums, galleries, auction houses, and publications.  These institutions are said to create culture of art.   In this way, Marcel Duchamp can put a men’s urinal on a pedestal and this plumbing fixture becomes "Art" since it acquires meaning and validation through being in the museum – an institution of art.

Istvan Kantor, a Canadian artist recently won a Governor General’s Award – one of the most prestigious prizes in the country – for his latest creation of metal cabinets opening and closing, that suggest fornication, along with semi-nude people dressed in futuristic wear of aluminum foil and cable, writhing on the floor suggestively.   This is the best art that was produced in Canada in 2003, according to the experts.  And why not?  Interestingly Kantor is also permanently banned from Canadian art institutions for throwing blood (the project was called ”blood-x”) on the walls of the national and international galleries.   These bloody happenings were to done in order to explore the form of guerilla performance – they were done illegally and without authorization.  The concept was inspired by… the act of vandalism.  Here’s a gem:  Kantor’s best-known act – or as many would say ”masterpiece” --  is a blood-x made between two Picassos in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1988.

Many people understand art as something that is pleasing to the eye or ear – take any impressionist painting – Monet, Van Gogh --  or a musical wonder of Beethoven’s ”Pastoral”  or Chopins ”Variations” – but when art becomes hard or impossible to understand right away we tend to question its merit. 

Speaking of music.  There’s a musical piece called ”As Slow as Possible”, and it’s a musical piece which began in 2001 in a small German town - and is composed to last a stupefying 639 years.   It is composed by John Cage, author of another musical artwork called ”4’33” and this is a piece that consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds in which the performer plays… nothing.

And going back to visual art.  A British artist, Tracey Emin who was shortlisted for Turner Prize in 1999 showed her unmade bed as an artwork (again, in the museum, therefore it was validated as artwork, no?).  It was a regular bed, with white sheets, obviously slept in, with cigarette butts, and empty condom packages, a suitcase… strewn around, most of it, on a shabby navy mat.  According to the official description ”My Bed’, the work shown at the Turner Prize exhibition in 1999, graphically illustrates themes of loss, sickness, fertility, copulation, conception and death - almost the whole human life-cycle in the place where most of us spend our most significant moments”

And who could argue with that?  It must be art