I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen arguments over what is or isn’t art. Generally speaking the purpose of the argument is to dispute the value of something by suggesting that it doesn’t qualify.
What Is Art?
Is modern art art? Are video games art?
The problem is that art as a label doesn’t really address quality:
1. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture,…: “the art of the Renaissance”
2. Works produced by such skill and imagination.
That was the first definition that came up. Not sure I’m entirely happy with it since it puts a lot of emphasis on visual. But while it mentions skill and creativity, notice the total lack of qualitative valuation.
Which is one of the things that people forget when they argue if the latest bizarre exhibition of modern art is actually art. Art can be shit. It can be absolutely terrible. The definition above is woolly at best and it isn’t even the only definition.
One thing the definition above doesn’t address at all is the ways in which art may be considered personal. Generally speaking art is the vision of a single mind or a very small number of collaborators (I imagine people are lining up exceptions as I write this). Its focus is on creating and sharing that vision
My own personal definition uses that to distinguish between art and commercial creations where the focus is on producing something that will be purchased. And again, neither is actually a value judgement.
Art is personal in another way too. It is personal in that different people will react to it differently, or not at all.
Some people argue that art is something that inspires emotion in the viewer/listener. If that is the case, if no emotion is inspired, has the art failed, is it not actually art? Or is the consumer defective?
That potentially also muddles work that was produced for purely commercial purposes back in with art again since it absolutely can produce an emotional reaction.
This definition really doesn’t hang together very well to my mind, even though it is commonly used. It is even more woolly and vague than the one I quoted earlier.
Art Doesn’t Matter
So what does this all mean? Well basically that most arguments over whether something is or is not art are completely missing the point.
You can critique something for it’s technical prowess. You can criticize if you’re told it’s making a particular point and it fails to get that point across to you. And of course you can offer your personal opinion on whether you like something or not.
But saying it’s not art, because you don’t think it’s good is meaningless. Likewise calling something art in the effort to make it seem more important is pointless and no one has an obligation to appreciate something just because it has been labeled art.
As with so many arguments, all that’s really happening is people are fighting over labels instead of anything meaningful.