The Thing About Art…

You didn’t ask me what I think about art. But I’m going to tell you anyway.

Disclaimer: these are just my minimally researched thoughts. Not right or wrong, just how I prefer to view it…

I think art is determined by experience. There is good experience and bad experience in art, and I’m sure I could improvise a list of criteria but I’m not a big fan of lists (in philosophy. In life, who doesn’t love a good list?!). For now, I’ll give examples. A grandparent views their grand-kids’ art as a good experience — good art. To a random person, it may not be as rewarding of an experience to see some random kid’s finger painting. Bad art. A song you loved before because of the experiences in listening to it is great music/art. That song during a negative experience is less likely to remain considered good music/art. I personally never understood abstract art until after high school. Seeing it in the pages of a textbook was not the right context. It wasn’t a rewarding experience at all, and frankly was reminiscent of the finger paint. But I wasn’t Pollock’s Nanna, so no thanks… But then I saw one of his pieces at a museum and was struck by how mesmerizing it was at full size, and in that context. It was such a positive experience, so memorable and inspiring that I now consider Pollock to be one of my favorites. It’s definitely art. Anything can be art. It’s all based on the experience. (Further, I don’t consider my practice sketches to be art. So I suspect there is an element of intention involved or cognizance of the experience? Like, a fun road trip isn’t necessarily performance art. But a breathtaking hike in nature, certainly could be art.)

I don’t want to provide a list of criteria for these experiences. Again, I don’t like lists. This conception of art would be like the moral particularism of aesthetics (in plain-er English, like one theory of moral philosophy, it may not be a list of criteria that determines whether something is right or wrong (or in this case, art or not), but rather it’s the particulars of a situation that can affect the decision, but it’s different particulars each time and they may not always have the same polarization (for example: lying is wrong, sometimes. (White lies, or bluffing, etc.)). So basically, what may make something a good or bad experience, or good or bad art, really depends largely on the particulars of the experience… in this case, that also includes who is involved. (Moral philosophy, for the record, doesn’t generally distinguish between the people involved in a moral act. It’s not usually relevant since they are looking for universal things to be true/good/right.)

So if I haven’t lost you in my rambling shower-thought of an exposition, I’d love to hear what you think! What do you think makes something art? Do you think it’s just a matter of an artist saying something is art? Or does it require a critic/professional evaluation? Or some aesthetic component — beauty in composition, colors, etc?

Do tell!


P.S. – If you enjoy this topic, I super-recommend Methods & Theories of Art History by Anne D’Alleva. It’s tangentially related, and explores these and other questions. It’s really approachable too and better presented than anything I could write!

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