What is ‘art’? Just think about it for a second.
We talk about paintings and drawings, theatre and books and poetry collectively as ‘art’ – but they’re all so different. It seems strange that such a small, three-letter word can account for a such a varied plethora of mediums. We categorise Van Gogh the same way that we do Oscar Wilde, and J.K. Rowling and Ian McKellen. How is that possible?
It’s interesting to walk around art galleries and listen to people’s responses to the works. Take Tate Modern, for example – only because it’s one of the biggest. Walk around the Tate and count how many times you hear
- “What’s it supposed to be?”
- “It’s just a load of metal!”
- “That’s not art.”
We’re so quick to criticise, but if you ask someone what art is, the silence is quite deafening.
Often, we talk about meaning – What does it mean? What’s the artist trying to say? – and I think that’s halfway there. However, we’re quick to judge the skills and craftsmanship of the artist. But does that really matter?
We do the same with other artforms. If theatre isn’t naturalistic we’re quick to criticise. The same if verse doesn’t rhyme, or novels are idiosyncratic in style. If it deviates from the norm, or makes us feel uncomfortable, we denounce it.
So, why should we feel comfortable with art? Does that imply that it should be something that brings about pleasure? Nice paintings to hang on the wall, or poems about love or plays that make us laugh… not always, surely?
Back to meaning – yes, works of art carry meaning, but oftentimes it’s implicit. And, furthermore, it’s outside of the realms of the artist. The art and the artist are two separate entities, and to consider them both together is false. If someone writes a novel about a same-sex relationship, it doesn’t make them homosexual. If you watch a play about a murder, you don’t believe that the actor himself has died. The artist is just a vehicle of expression.
If art’s about expression, then, does that mean it should always be accessible? Should we always know what a work means, or should there be layers to it? If someone cries, you know that they’re sad, but you don’t know every minute detail – and you wouldn’t ask, that would be intrusive.
Art is a representation of a feeling, or a notion or a statement. It may be political, or it may be personal. It’s an expression of a moment, or a thought or an experience. In many ways, it’s elusive – especially to the outside eye. It’s not definite.
It’s there to be enjoyed – or, should I say, experienced – and oftentimes not in a feel-good way. It’ll make you feel something, somewhere, whether you understand it or not. But it’s not to be judged, like you wouldn’t judge a person for expressing themselves. Art is the consequence of expression.
‘Art’ is short for ‘Artificial’.
Words: Connor Gotto