What Is Art?

Yes, what is art? And is there a specific, irrefutable answer?

what is art?
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Anyway, the question - What is art? - is one I found even more perplexing after watching a TV programme recently called ‘Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art?’

A more apt name for the programme, in my opinion, would have been 'WTF is Conceptual Art Anyway?’

The only way I can think of explaining that kind of art, (and I may be wrong), it is by highlighting one of artist Martin Creed’s more puzzling pieces. It was probably a very expensive piece but you can’t actually pick it up, move it or touch it.

There is no tangible object involved, so naturally, it won the Turner Prize in 2001.

Have we all heard of British artist Martin Creed?

He is the guy who painted, sculpted, made, built, er….. oh, I know! Thought up the idea of having an empty room where the light goes on and off at 5 second intervals.

Or was it off and on? Can’t remember.

Well anyway - his work, entitled ‘Work Number 227 - The Lights Going On and Off’ (oh, there you go, it is on and off as opposed to off and on), was purchased by Tate Members, the Art Fund and a named individual who must have money to burn. The details are laid out below the video. You can get to that page on the Tate website by clicking here.

The YouTube video you see above is of Martin Creed's Lights Going On and Off piece at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

It left me wondering if the MOMA had to buy their own version of the work or if they borrowed the one that the Tate Members clubbed together to buy in London.

Either way, what did the MOMA either buy or borrow? Yes, I know, it blows my mind too, trying to figure it out.

If I were to 'buy' this for my home, I would be saying, my room, my lights, my electricty - what am I paying you for? Oh I see - the idea.

what is art?

Is it possible the group of Tate members who bought this work asked the question, ‘what is art?’ before they parted with their cash.

Or more to the point, what is this art? Why do I ask? Well, you might notice in the Tate listing above, where there would normally be a picture of the art, it says, ‘sorry, no picture is available for this object’.

What it should say there, in my opinion, is ‘sorry, no picture is available of this object because there is no object, it’s a concept. Yes that’s right, some people spent an absolute fortune on a f*%k*%g concept.

And see where the summary is - just under where there is no picture? I have reworded that too, just to make it a little clearer.

It should say, I believe - 'A load of pretentious bollocks designed to get plenty of press attention’ for the Turner Prize. See? Much shorter and more to the point don’t you think?

This is the kind of ‘art’ made for people who ’see’ clothes on naked emperors. If you don’t know about that story, where have you been? Click here to become enlightened about the kind of people who ‘see’ clothes on naked tyrants.

And, ironically, on the gallery blurb, where it says 'Medium', (which for an artist like, say, Turner, it would simply say, 'oils'), in this case it says 'gallery lighting'.

So let me get this straight Tate Members - you  bought a piece of 'art' that is basically lights, owned by the the Tate, going on and off. Right?

And, it cost so much that a group of you had to pool your money to get this...this...this concept that uses, as its medium, the Tate's own room, lights and electricity. Yes?

Oh my. I don't know what to say.

So, I ask again - What is art?

Well clearly absolutely flipping anything, if you can get the right people to buy it and bang on about what uneducated peasants the rest of us are.

This is the kind of thing they say about stuff that needs explaining because it's so shit. This is a line from New York art dealer Jim Kempner's comedy series, The Madness of Art:

"What does this mean? Do you know what post modern means? This is post modern, fatalistic, idiosyncratic, post apocalyptic malaise. Alien glitter, ironic oatmeal existentialism. There's a psychological phallus. The point is, that it's important."

Jim Kempner is the funniest art dealer I have ever come across. His series of skits in the Madness of Art are so honest.

 

I first found Jim Kempner when he did a Ted Talk called the Madness of Art. He had me as soon as he came on stage and asked "any questions?" before he even started his talk.

I love this guy - despite being a well respected New York art dealer, he sees the humorous side of that world. I can't imagine any upper-class British dealers having this kind of humour.

If you watch the BBC programme that I watched (link at start of post), you will learn about the Italian artist Piero Manzoni who, to put it bluntly, canned his own shit.

Yes, really. Why would I make that up - you freak?

He died back in the 60s and the cans are worth a fortune, selling for prices as high as £182,500 at auction.

No one really knows what is inside the sealed cans (there were 90 of them) and to open one to find out would render it worthless. That, apparently, is also conceptual ‘art’.

Ok! Moving on to one of Martin Creed’s more tangible pieces of ‘art’ - Work No 88 An A4 Sheet of Paper Crumpled Into a Ball.

The journalist in the programme bought one. It cost him £180. No, that isn’t a typing error - it really was £180.

Ok, so we know that a screwed up blank sheet of A4 paper by a living artist goes for a heck of a lot less than canned shit (or not) from a dead one.

We also know that there are some crazy Mo Fo’s out there buying stuff you can easily make at home.

What do you mean, a screwed up ball of paper is too hard? I made one - look.

what is art?
I made this. No really, I did. Seventy quid and it's yours.
It even comes with images of how I made it - look...
what is art?
what is art?

Ok - so for you people who did not go to art school and need it spelt out - you start with a blank sheet of A4 paper (or US letter size if you prefer).

Now this is the tricky part - you need to screw it up. If, at first, it doesn't look very much like a ball, like the one you see here, just keep screwing and eventually, you will get one as good as mine. Ok?

So back to the question, what is art? Is it what you see above? Is it that easy?

Clearly for Martin Creed, it is. However, I doubt anyone will pay me £1 for my screwed-up paper ball, never mind £70 or, the £180 that Mr. Creed gets.

And apparently, his is a perfect sphere. Mine isn't. That is why I love it.

It may not be perfect but as paper balls go, I believe mine is just as good as Martin Creed’s and it only costs £70 - that’s less than half price.

While canning your own shit might be a harder piece of 'art' to emulate, the turning the light on and off one should be a doddle. Come on! What could be easier?

Just not sure about how you would sell something like that.

Sell what? I hear you say. Well, exactly. That is the nature of conceptual art.

The question -  What is art? - came up again the day after seeing the BBC programme that made me question what art is.

During my working day, I encountered the image you see below.

what is art?

I am not, at this point, going to reveal who created it but let’s just say it wasn’t what I was expecting when looking on his website.

But having seen the ‘art’ programme the night before, I immediately fell in love with this very real image - even though I probably wasn’t meant too.

I say that because I don’t think the artist expected anyone to connect with the image so deeply, although I may of course be wrong.

Whatever his intention, I did connect with it in a very positive way. It screamed - FREEDOM! - to me for some reason.

A breaking the mold kind of freedom. It was better than what I'd expected to see, (once I got over the disappointment of not seeing what I expected).

My still raw feelings about the utter madness (expensive utter madness) I had seen the night before, coupled with being confronted by this image, caused me to once again ask the question -  what is art?

So the creator of this image, who lives in Nashville, very kindly agreed to let me use his artwork for a small project, the results of which I am going to share with you in my next post.

Meanwhile, I ask you these questions,  which you can answer by scrolling down until you see the 'leave a reply' box.

Would you pay £180 for a screwed up ball of paper or would you make your own?

Would it depend on who screwed it up?

What is art to you?