So, back to our question about what, exactly, is art? Merriam-Webster defines art as the following:
: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings
: works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings
: the methods and skills used for painting, sculpting, drawing, etc.
It sounds like art can either be something beautiful or something that expresses an important idea or feeling. Can it be both? Degas' work certainly fits both criteria. What about those lines between art and craft? Are "handmade" cookie cutter clay ornaments "art"? (Sorry, it's nearly Christmas time and I work at a rec center...) What about a beautifully made porcelain teabowl? Is that art or craft? (Just had this conversation yesterday.) What about the chunky, heavy mug that my daughter made when she was ten? What about my son's drawings from art class (which are good, by the way.)?
On the flip side of the argument is the realm of fine art. Many of the works of art being created by artists today push this traditional definition of art. I've always felt that this is a good thing and, really, it is our duty as artists to do this. There is a wonderful bit in Andrew Solomon's story on the Moth about how, living in the West, where our past is secure, we can be innovative in our art, but in Afghanistan after the Taliban occupation, the purpose of art was to preserve the cultural heritage that the Taliban had very nearly destroyed. (Listen to this piece. It's about twenty minutes long but it is wonderful!) As artists, we do have a duty to innovate and practice our right to create, but, sometimes, artists can push these limits even to places I'm not comfortable with...which is the point, really. Carolee Schneemann really pushed the limit between art and pornography with her 1975 performance piece Interior Scroll. (Click here for images of the piece, but I'll warn you that they are not rated PG.) There are, I'm sure man who found this performance to NOT be art, but it's goal of expressing an important idea was definitely achieved. What about Thester Gates' work to rehabilitate his inner city neighborhood. This is certainly a wonderful work of philanthropy, but does it fulfill the definition of art as being an expression of beauty or an important idea or feeling? Or is it just a good, humane thing to do? As part of Gates' work he once hosted a carefully staged dinner with a guest list that included leaders from several different religions. While the conversation was certainly interesting, how is this different from hosting Thanksgiving dinner in 2015 without having Adele cued up on the CD player?
So, what is art? What are the limits of what can and cannot do within its realm?
What are your thoughts? And happy Thanksgiving!