November 22, 2008

You Know When You See It....

Art is in the eye of the beholder

What is art? And, what is the artist responsibility, if any, to the community? Well, this is the general topic of discussion on this faculty-student retreat conference this weekend. Needless to say, we haven't reached a consensus. Like art, the discussions are all over the place. What I find fascinating is that there's such an effort to define art! I'm not sure this is necessary or even practical.

It's something similar to what Plato asked--and I'm only interested in his question not the answer he came up with. What is a good life? Likewise, art can obtain a definition through this route. I believe that some things that deal with the abstract, whereas opposing opinions may be equally valid (is this art or not?), there is no need to have a universal definition. It's not about the laws of physics where personal opinion has to conform to the evidence, the facts.

Therefore, I think the definition of art it's in the eye of the beholder. Don't tell me that there are certain standards that clearly delineate something as art. We all can think of pieces of art that do not appeal to our artistic sensibilities. But, stuff that we don't think it's worth a second look, it may be sold for lots of money. Soviet art--you know, the only true and valid artistic expression of the proletariat... In this case, the totalitarian state infused society (by force or by excluding other choices) with a certain artistic perspective.

I showed a few pictures I had on my computer (like the ones here) and asked whether they're art. Well, guess what, once I said those pictures were from well-known museums in New York, almost everyone said it was art! [in case you're wondering, the female model on the left is not in a museum!]

For me, art should be a personal definition. If society values something because it has a special meaning or whatever it does to inspire, provoke,challenge, etc., it's fine. I don't see a necessity to define something that doesn't seem to want to define the physical world. Since it means different things to different people, then let's leave it at that.

An interesting topic that can indeed be discussed and debated with some degree of a practical application is censorship. Should art ever be censored? If so, under what circumstances? It has and it is, but I believe censorship is a really bad idea. My group discussed the topic of censorship. What forms, if any, of censorship are acceptable?

Most of the panel agreed that some form of censorship is appropriate, but I think they expanded the definition of the word. Exclusion is not necessarily a ban. This morning at the buffet table, I filled my plate with lots of stuff but not of all many foods available. Taste and preference excluded a few items. I didn't exercise censorship though. The same principle applies to ideas, art, and other expressions.

Censorship means an attempt to stop or kill something seen as a threat or of corrupting influence. But, I think adult individuals should be in charge of themselves. I want to be trusted with all sorts of information, even exposed to ideas that contradict my own point of view. Being challenged is a learning experience and a necessity as a person grows up, matures. It's part of life. We should not be shielded by sensorship. This is a protection that we can live without--much like the protection the mafia offers.

I don't buy the argument that the devil is out there trying to destroy us. For those who believe in the devil, however, I'd say that they should also be ready to acquit those who commit crimes if they perps say, the devil made me do it. I do not doubt that an offensive expression can make people violent, but this isn't a good reason to limit free expression. The medicine turns out to be worse than the disease in this case.
Art, in particular, is a means to challenge, push the envelope. And, if this isn't allowed to be totally free, then in which other area of human endeavor can it take place?

George Orwell nailed it: if liberty is to mean anything, it means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.
PS>I took the photos above at the MOMA and the Metropolitan.

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