What makes Art Art?

This is the title of a recent post by Creative Infrastructure blogger Linda Essig who also directs the Arizona State University arts entrepreneurship program. In it she considers a question posed by Clayton Lord in a facebook thread. He asks us to contemplate two means of replication:

an app that lets you see and zoom in on fine artworks, and a 3D printing company advertising $20,000 reproductions of fine artworks that are accurate to the placement of strokes and thickness of paint. I somehow react differently to those ideas even though they’re both not-the-original…I wonder why. Is one a more appropriate use of new tech than the other for preserving the virtuosity of the art?

Linda responds by citing work from the economist Richard Caves:

  1. Creative workers care about their product. “In creative activities…the creator cares vitally about the originality displayed, the technical prowess demonstrated, the resolution and harmony achieved in the creative act.”
  2. Differentiated products. “No two are identical”…“While creative possibilities are always abundant, creative realizations are not”

She then throws her own two cents in, to say:

Nina Simon, of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz and the Museum 2.0 blog, suggested, “Our obsession with “the real artifact” is itself an artifact of its time,” and referenced plaster replicas of statues on display in museums in the nineteenth century.  I maintain that those replicas and the $20,000 replica in Clay’s example are an important means for distribution of art but is not the art itself.  I continued,

The issue is not one of scarcity, but of originality and intention. The display of plaster casts (some of which are still on display in museums) was driven by geogpraphy and lack of transportation. Viewers knew that they were seeing a plaster replica and appreciated it in the same way one appreciates a digital print of “Starry Night.” 3D printing will enable us to appreciate a better print, but the artist’s hand will still be missing.

What do you think?

My response was this:

My first thought is that Caves has to be talking about a rather narrow interpretation of art as those two characteristics fail to include children’s art and things like process art that are not aimed at results as much as simply seeing what happens. My second thought was that the “missing hand” of the artist she notes in her response to Clay would not have concerned Duchamp in the slightest, arguably one of the most important and influential figures in 20th Century art.

Brian Eno lecturing at the MoMA in 1990: "“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences"

Brian Eno lecturing at the MoMA in 1990: ““Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences…. anything can be art and anyone can do it”

It seems that every time we try to pin down what things are and are not art we may hit on some relevant distinctions, but fail to grasp the larger whole. Maybe the problem isn’t the insufficiency of our definitions but the belief that definitions will capture everything….. If the distinction of what makes art art is a net cast into the ocean of human activity it seems to always have gaping holes in what it gathers and frequently catches us the strangest most bizarre things imaginable……

Wittgenstein had an analysis of ‘games’ that is relevant to how we think about art. There are no universal features of the things we call games or criteria that gets shared in all instances. The same can be said for art. Art is a loose grouping of things that hang together for different reasons, and often only by what he termed ‘family resemblances‘. There is no ‘core’ meaning to how we use the word. There is no one thing that is essential to art. There are always exceptions that can be found to any hard and fast definition, otherwise our refusal to include them becomes decidedly arbitrary. Or at least severely hampered by its obstinate conditionality…..

Art doesn’t express one thing about our humanity but many, and we simply can’t capture that multiplicity with reductionist pigeonholing. Its entirely possible that “A” can be related to “B”, and “B” related to “C”, but that “A” and “C” have nothing in common except that they are related to “B”. Being ‘related to “B”‘ is, perhaps, the most that can be said for our use of the word ‘art’. We call things art because… this is what we call them. The word itself acts to bind things together, not because it points to an underlying reality, but because this is how we use it. There is a history of use that has grown to include new and alternative meanings. This is simply how language changes over time. Sometimes words are jumbled aggregates rather than transparent crystals of purity.

There is no natural category of art, especially in today’s world where we continue to push the boundaries of what we mean by ‘art’ and continue to break the rules that got us to this place in time. If we are looking for unequivocal definitions we are barking up the wrong tree. The question itself is perhaps misleading. Especially if it is taken to imply definitive answers. The question often only gets asked with the presumption of a set of standards, but it is quite obvious that those standards differ between different people, across different cultures, and even in our own throughout history. While the question may seem objective, the answer is only ever contingent.

Here is a related question: “What is the difference between ‘bad’ art and things that are not art at all?” Its the question of whether something counts as a mistake rather than a move in a different game. The truth is that artists are not all playing the same game, so what counts for ‘bad’ in one sense can be ‘good’ in another. Moves that don’t seem to be art in one sense can be exactly what was aimed at in another. Wittgenstein also explored these differences in his work on rule following. Its something that John Cage was interested in exploring by pushing the boundaries of what we understand as sound, silence, and music.

Cage and Duchamp are not exceptions. The history of art is replete with people and art movements taking steps out of accord with tradition and convention. Artists’ jobs often even seem to be the defiance of definitions. Nor is it the only thing that artists do. That’s not the essential thing about art in all cases. Defiance is not what makes it art.

Grasping at simple answers the prize will always elude us. Just because we have the word ‘art’, which seems to stand for something we can name, it does not follow that the things so named will have the coherence or seemingly concrete aspect that the word itself does. There is nothing wrong with how we use the word in ordinary language, its just that words don’t always do what we think they do. Vagueness and imprecision are not defects of language, and we’d best be clear on that score.

This ‘looseness’ in our word use doesn’t mean that we can’t talk reasonably about art, or pick art out from non-art. It only means that we do so within the framework of how that question was posed. In the absence of absolute certainty we are not suddenly paralyzed with indecision or cultural incompetence. We make discriminations with reasons that are embedded in our system of values and language use, with the practices we learned in acquiring the skills to do things with those words.

“Art schools manage to balance themselves on the fence between telling you what to do step by step, and leaving you free to do what you want. Their orientation is basically towards the production of specialists, and towards the provision of ambitions, of goals, and identities. The assumption of the correct identity — painter, sculptor — fattens you up for the market. The identity becomes a straightjacket; it becomes progressively more dangerous to step outside of it.” Brian Eno

Our behavior is provisional in the sense that it depends on how we understand the use of words, their history in our lives and in our culture. Including, of course, the open ended potential that new definition will be given as we move forward and incorporate unfolding manifestations. Despite the invested conservatism of the established art industry, new things can continually be understood as part of the practice of naming and exercising art. The fact that people disagree, that there is conflict with accepted institutional wisdom, doesn’t mean we don’t know what we are talking about. Disagreement isn’t a test that invalidates our way of doing things: Its a measure of our convictions only.

Maybe the better question still would be to ask how we learned what things count as art and what things do not. Since different people obviously disagree, what did they learn that was different? Maybe the real trick is not dismissing what other people mean by art, but coming to see it from their point of view……

Duchamp turned our conceptions of an artist on their head. Cage flipped the world of music upside down. Perhaps we need to look at the idea of art itself in a new way, one that denies the expectation of pat answers and easy definitions. If we are only looking for definitive explanations, as we do in the ‘hard’ sciences, will we be open to an understanding that doesn’t need them? Is that the problem? Would a science of ‘art’ necessarily be more like physics than phrenology? Maybe it would properly be an Anthropology. That seems like an important question, doesn’t it?


I have just been able to access the original facebook thread, and its very interesting. Recall that Clayton Lord’s triggering question had more to do with how we understand the replication of art. I unloaded my own response as follows:

Have you read Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyperreality? Its been a while since I picked it up (and to be honest, much of it flew over my head that first reading), but I recall that he examines our fascination with copies of things, including copies of art. The perspective he brings may be worth considering. (See the first comment below for some meaty excerpts from his essay)

My sense is that in only specific instances do we hang our hats on the idea of authenticity, and that there is often as much if not more interest in a simulated or borrowed reality. For instance, sometimes we go on vacation and take every advantage of photo opportunities at the expense of actually enjoying being there. As if the potential future ‘memories’ were sometimes more important than the experience itself. ‘Selfies‘ are all the rage these days. Why do we have ‘friends’ on facebook but not also ‘sycophants’ and ‘groupies’, much less ‘bare acquaintances’ and ‘complete strangers’? Has the virtual reality simply given us an idealized and preferable version of ourselves? Why does anyone ever pay attention to tabloid headlines and the scandals of celebrities? We are so used to forming opinions on the basis of scant evidence that we’d sometimes rather have something to say than worry about being right. The ‘real’ isn’t always our first priority. It gets neglected in the dreamscape we construct for ourselves.

(I also remember Mario Lemieux’s last hockey game, a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and at the end of the contest he was shaking hands with his friends and teammates and fellow competitors, soaking up his last moments in this particular spotlight, when abruptly and with little thought for his own experience of the moment, an intrepid reporter and camera crew vault onto the ice and jam a microphone under his chin. That was one of the most shockingly rude invasions of personal space I’ve ever seen. You could see him slip from one frame of reference to another, like he had been shoved off a cliff. Lemieux would never experience what that moment brought him ever again in his life. The moment had been lost. And the crime was that he had earned his right to spend that moment in his own way. But the reporter and perhaps even the ‘history of the sport’ demanded that they intervene and get that snapshot, that soul sample, of an athlete’s final moment. The truth is, we do this all the time…..)

The other point I’d make is that much of the discussion above (in the fb thread) turns on art as a manifest object, even taking live performances as interpretive objects rather than the performance itself as a kind if art. I’d like to suggest that sometimes art is an object, especially from the point of view of an audience. From the creative/generative point of view, however, this can be seen as far too limiting.

Sometimes the art is in the idea or concept, and we actually pay others to execute our designs (Andy Warhol springs to mind here). The object itself is almost incidental. The creativity and art can also be in how (or that) we conceived a thing, and it would be a mistake to confuse the artful idea with the its instantiation. Its the difference between design and production. We always blur that line when we treat the product of our art as a commodity.

But we can also embrace the ephemeral nature of art as well. At other times the art is in how things were done, not necessarily an interpretation but an active expression. The art itself can be performative. There need be no driving idea which is being represented. The artistry can be the movement itself.

In a sense, we sometimes capture an artist making art in viewing a performance, but the art itself merely underlies what we saw. The object of our vision was not the art, but how that art was expressed. Do you see the distinction? The object isn’t always the art, sometimes it merely records the art…..

Would a musician ever say their art was a CD? Perhaps the CD aims to capture a performance, and perhaps that performance aims to capture an idea….. Why would we necessarily say that art had to be an object?

Relegating art to the status of objects lets us get a certain hold on them, but its a grasp that too many other things slip through and evade. Its also a grasp that will pick up the most peculiar things. Confining definitions have a way of doing that….

That’s how I see it, at least…..

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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17 Responses to What makes Art Art?

  1. These are some excerpts from Umberto Eco’s essays in Travels in Hyperreality:

    Holography could only prosper in America, a country obsessed with realism, where, if a reconstruction is to be credible, it must be absolutely iconic, a perfect likeness, a “real” copy of the reality being represented. (p4)

    This is the reason for this journey into hyperreality, in search of instances where the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake; where the boundaries between game and illusion are blurred, the art museum is contaminated by the freak show, and falsehood is enjoyed in a situation of “fullness”, of horror vacui. (p8)

    The moment you enter you are alerted that you are about to have one of the most thrilling experiences of your life; they comment on the various scenes with long captions in sensational tones; they combine historical reconstruction with religious celebration, glorification of movie celebrities, and themes of famous fairy tales and adventure stories; they dwell on the horrible, the bloody; their concern with authenticity reaches the point of reconstructive neurosis. (p13-14)

    The American Wax museum is simply less hidebound; it shows Brigitte Bardot with a skimpy kerchief around her loins, it rejoices in the life of Christ with Mahler and Tchaikovsky, it reconstructs the chariot race from Ben Hur in a curved space to suggest panoramic VistaVision, for everything must equal reality, even if, as in these cases, reality was fantasy. (p15)

    A Wunderkamer par excellence, the Ripley’s Museum has in common with the medieval and baroque collections of marvels the uncritical accumulation of of every find: the difference lies in the more casual attitude toward the problem of authenticity. The Authenticity the Ripley’s Museums advertise is not historical, but visual. Everything looks real, and therefor it is real; in any case the fact that it is real seems real, and the thing is real even if, like Alice in Wonderland, it never existed. (p 15-16)

    The acme of the Palace (of Living Arts), however, is reached in two places. In one you see Van Gogh. This is not a reproduction of a specific picture: Poor Vincent is sitting, with his electroshock look, on one of the chairs he painted elsewhere, against the background of a rumpled bed as he actually painted it, and with some little Van Goghs on the walls. Bit the striking thing is the face of the great lunatic; in wax, naturally, but meant to render faithfully the rapid, tormented brushstrokes of the artist, and thus the face seems devoured by some disgusting eczema, the beard is palpably motheaten, and the skin is flaking with scurvy, herpes zoster, mycosis.

    The second sensational moment is provided by three statues reproduced in wax, and therefor more real because they are in color whereas the originals were in marble and hence all white and lifeless. They are a Dying Slave and a David of Michaelangelo. The Dying Slave is a great hulk with an undershirt rolled up over his chest and a loincloth borrowed from a semi-nudist colony; the David is a rough type with black curls, slingshot, and a green leaf against his pink belly. The printed text informs us that the wax work portrays the model as he must have been when Michaelangelo copied him. Not far off is the Venus de Milo, leaning on an Ionic column against the background of a wall with figures painted in red. I say “leaning”, and in fact this polychrome unfortunate has arms. The legend explains: “Venus de Milo brought to life as she was in the days when she posed for the unknown Greek sculptor, in approximately 200bc.” (p20)

    Like New York, New Orleans knows its own fakes and historicizes them: In various patrician houses in Louisiana, for example, there exist copies of Ingres’s portrait of Napoleon enthroned, because many French artists came here in the nineteenth century saying they were pupils of the great painter, and they distributed copies, more or less reduced, and more or less successful, but this was in a time when oil copies were the only way of knowing the original, and local historiography celebrates these copies as documentation of their own “coloniality”. The fake is recognized as “historical,” and is thus garbed in authenticity. (p30)

    New Orleans is not in the grip of a neurosis of a denied past; it passes out memories generously like a great lord; it doesn’t have to pursue “the real thing”. (p30)

    And yet you can’t help but wonder whether, when America patronizes the past, it always does so in a spirit of gluttony and bricolage. So we had to run other checks, but our trip was undertaken in the name of the Absolute Fake, and thus we had to exclude examples of correct, philological art collections, where famous works are shown without any manipulation. Extreme instances had to be found, examples of the conjunction of archeology and falsification. And California in this respect is still the land of goldmines. (p31)

    How can a rich man, a lover of the arts, recall the emotions he one day felt in Herculaneum or in Versailles? And how can he help his compatriots understand what Europe is? Its easy to say: Put all your objects in a row with explanatory labels in a neutral setting. In Europe the neutral setting is called the Louvre, Castello Sforzesco, Ufizzi, Tate Gallery (just a short walk from Westminster Abbey). It is easy to give a neutral setting to visitors who can breathe in the Past a few steps away, who reach the neutral setting after having walked, with emotion, among venerable stones. But in California, between the Pacific on the one hand, and Los Angeles on the other, with restaurants shaped like hats and hamburgers, and four-level freeways with ten thousand ramps, what do you do? You reconstruct the Villa of Papyruses. You put yourself in the hands of the German Archaeologist, taking care he doesn’t overdo; you place your bust of Hercules in a construction that reproduces a Roman temple; and if you have the money, you make sure the marble comes from the original places of the model, that the workers are all from Naples, Carrara, Venice, and you announce this. Kitsch? Perhaps. But in the Hearst Castle sense? Not exactly. In the sense of the Palace of Living Arts or the magic rooms of the Madonna Inn? The Venus de Milo with arms? Absolutely not. (p33)

    The Getty Museum, on the contrary, is the work of one man and his collaborators who tried in their way to reconstruct a credible and “objective” past. If the Greek statues are not Greek, they are at least good Roman copies, and presented as such; if the tapestries based on authentic Raphael cartoons were woven today, they were studied so as to put the picture in a setting not unlike the one for which it was designed…. In other words, the Getty Museum, after the first reaction of mockery or puzzlement, raises the question: Who is right? How do you regain contact with the past? Archaeological respect is only one of the possible solutions; other periods resolved the problem differently…. The Roman yearned for impossible Parthenons; from Hellenistic artists he ordered copies of the great statues of the Periclean age. He was a greedy shark who, after having helped bring down Greece, guaranteed its survival in the form of copies. Between the Roman Patrician and the Greece of the fifth century there were, we might say, from five to seven hundred years. Between the Getty Museum and the remade Rome there are, roughly speaking, two thousand. The temporal gap is bridged by archaeological knowledge; we can rely on the Getty team, their reconstruction is more faithful to Herculaneum than the Herculaneum reproduction was faithful to the Greek tradition. But the fact is that our journey into the Absolute Fake, begun in the spirit of irony and sophisticated repulsion, is now exposing us to some dramatic questions. (p34-35)

  2. I’m not sure what is more depressing, that arts advocates, educators, and administrators, in todays day and age are even asking the question “What makes Art Art”? or the answers given to the question.
    At the heart of this argument is the questioning of the value of artists. What makes Art Art? Artists make that decision, not advocates or.administrators .

    • Well said Richard!

      The people who care the most about having a usable answer are always the ones with an agenda to shove down poor practicing artists’ throats, it seems…. Every gatekeeper wants the sanctity of their opinions enforced, and it always leaves some otherwise deserving artist out in the cold. Just to preserve their own definitions…..

      Having a definition is like getting a rope to wrangle some recalcitrant beast into conformity. Whatever we catch with the rope, we struggle to make it behave, and the things that we failed to catch we ignore and simply hope they wander off elsewhere. Definitions are too tidy for all but the surgical removal of unwanted parts, cancerous growths, and vestigial outcroppings. Definitions are always an injury to someone or something when it plays on limited stereotypes…….

      We can still talk about art without needing to have it wrapped up in neat little packages. We can understand it without needing to know exactly what it means….. Some people just crave definition.

      Any chance you read the Eco essay? The question of copies is still interesting, if only that its sometimes hard to pin down exactly who the artist is. Is only the original something made by an artist? Or are all copies and fakes also things that artists make? The lines seem to blur beyond a certain point, and the idea of a necessary artist slips from our grasp when its a machine that duplicates “fine artworks that are accurate to the placement of strokes and thickness of paint”. I’d be curious to hear what your thoughts were.

  3. Eco’s idea’s about “Open work”, work whose meaning remains open in it’s interpretation, is an important and interesting one but I think as a whole Eco’s critical writing suffers from trying to apply that idea everywhere.
    Yes it’s interesting and important to question gatekeepers, and the gates, and who get in and is left out but the fact remains that throughout art history artists have made things for knowable reasons.
    I think, too often, you misinterpret the wide range of reasons for making art as proof that there are not any sound definitions of what art is or what artists do. Not only do I think that is a misrepresentation of history but, more dangerously, it plays into the hands of conservative politics today.
    The neo-liberal agenda wants a populist idea of art. They want to extinguish intellectualism and they do so by trying to label it as exclusionary and elitist and questioning it’s definition. And it has become so pervasive that this neo-liberal stance has even been adopted by many arts advocates and administrators who question what art is and what it is artist should be doing.

    Don’t feed the beast.

    • Its interesting that you fault Eco for “applying an idea everywhere”. Our conversations seem to always run around in the same circles of you defending art from populism and me attempting to broaden our interpretation and find the egalitarian acceptance. Maybe we both have our ideas we are pushing…..

      Setting aside any reference to neo-liberal agendas, I am genuinely interested in what you think about the idea of copies. The Eco essay from Travels in Hyperreality is an interesting exploration of how our society has employed them and even lauded them as art in their own right. Its an examination of the role that various forms of fakery play in our modern lives. This seems to have implications for your concern with “what art is or what artists do”. Do artists even make copies? If so, how distant can an artist be from the production of the work? Was Warhol making art when he farmed out the production of his ideas? Are designers artists?

      It just seems that the world is full of gray areas. The world is changing, and the colors shift with the change in perspective. And rather than this defeating intellectualism, I see it as a call to even more intelligent insight into a reality that is not so cut and dry or static as our simple historical and inherited distinctions often make it seem. I think we are in danger of embracing the lies and mythologies of simplicity and clarity if we don’t question these things.

      Anyone who plants his flag in the ground is in danger of the tides sweeping his bit of sand out to sea. The problem is that we can defend our turf against the incursions of radical neo-liberals and the like, savages who don’t understand our ways and don’t appreciate the things we value. But the same is also true of us: We don’t often appreciate the values that they endorse, and we don’t understand what motivates them. Not really. We often judge, but we don’t see the world through their eyes. We can see that they ‘love’ these despicable things, their vile heathen worship, but we don’t understand why that love is there. We don’t feel it ourselves. We are locked inside our bodies and they in theirs. The problem with myopic and contingent world views is always that we miss the legitimate differences that others have from our own points of view.

      Which is fine and all too human, anyway. This is what it means to be human. Its just an issue when we claim to speak for all other people and put our own values above all others. If only “I” am right, then “you” must be wrong…… When in history has that ever been the case? What truth has been eternally changeless? If you can name more than a dozen you get high marks. And if these changeless truths are not such a paltry group, so specific as to be irrelevant, or so general as to mean nothing, just what are we left with? I would suggest that being intellectual encompasses exactly this acknowledgment rather than sticking our heads in the sand against it.

      If intellectualism means fighting for truth, then we must accept whatever that truth is, regardless of how it fits or fails to fit our agendas and ideals. Too often we put the agenda first and then seek to prop it up with every rational seeming insight. That’s not the way science works, at least. Finding the truth in science means testing ideas against reality, and being willing to change our minds as new information comes in. Its not fitting everything we see into a preformed plan of how things must work. If our theories can’t be falsified, then no evidence could contradict their point of view. It becomes the antithesis of intellectual. It is only dogmatic fanaticism.

      I’ll end on an excerpt from the Eco essay I keep referring to:

      “The Dark Lady, heavily made up and smiling like the wife of a CIA director visiting General Pinochet, interviews four doctors with an array of very convincing degrees and titles. Seated in her garden scented with roses, they try desperately to save their professional dignity. “Dr Gzrgnibtz, I’m not here to defend God, who doesn’t need my help, but tell me: Haven’t you ever seen a person who seemed doomed to die and then suddenly recovered?” The doctor is evasive. “Medicine can’t explain everything. Sometimes there are psychosomatic factors. Every doctor has seen people with advanced cancers, and two months later they were riding a bicycle.” “What did I tell you? Its a remission that can only come from God!” The doctor ventures a last defense of reason. “Science doesn’t have all the answers. It can’t explain everything. We don’t know everything….” The Dark Lady rocks with almost sensual laughter. “What did I tell you? That’s the truth! You’ve said something very profound, Doctor! We can’t know everything! There’s your demonstration of the power of God, the supernatural power of God! The supernatural power of God doesn’t need any defending. I know! I know! Thank you, dear friends, our time is up!”” The Dark Lady doesn’t even try, as a Catholic bishop would have done, to discover if the healed person had prayed, nor does she wonder why God exercised his power on that man and not on his unfortunate neighbor in the next bed. In the Technicolor rose garden something that “seems” a miracle has taken place, as a wax face seems physically a historic character. Through a play of mirrors and background music, once again the fake seems real. The doctor performs the same function as the certificate from the Italian fine arts authorities in the museums of copies: The copy is authentic.”

      • Carter, I don’t know what your question is. You start out asking me what I think of copies as it applies to Eco’s use of fakery and then instantly you seem to be talking about making a repetition or a multiple of something. That’s a different subject than talking about making a fake. And then just as quick you are asking about artists who employee others in their process of production. Well, that again is another subject and I’m not sure it has anything to do with setting our to make a fake.
        And then with that you set out to conclude that this somehow proves art is one great big gray area.

        I will say we are in an interesting time. I see young artists coming out of art school with a completely different notion of what they will do as an artist. They seem really resistant to anything smelling of the capitalistic system and disillusioned by even thinking they might actually be able to make a living selling their work, let alone teaching. Yet graduate programs are filled with new candidates spending ridiculous amounts of money on a degree.
        And I’m open to all of those new ideas and even find them exciting but there also seems to be something missing. They may know more about Adorno than even I do but they seem to have no knowledge that at one time in this country artists were directly supported by NEA and State grants. There seems to be a missing knowledge of history/herstory and the artist who came before them and what they discovered.
        I say all this because I think part of this disillusionment is bolstered by the type of thinking you seem to be suggesting. That being, that there really isn’t any real definition of art and the ones that have been concluded in the past have all been shot through with holes and are no longer relevant. Along with that is the notion that everyone is creative (they’re not) and that anyone idea of creativity is as good as anyone’s (it isn’t).

        • Wow! If its possible to talk past each other any more than we seem to be doing I don’t think I’ve seen it! I’m not sure I even want to know your opinion on copies if you will only ever talk about how the condition of the modern artist has been damaged by the neo-liberal agenda. Is that the only answer to every possible question? Its what you seem to have to say in just about every comment I’ve ever seen you post. Obviously you’d rather talk about that than any other question I might have. The difficulty is that no matter how sympathetic I and others are to your cause this repetition of anger and blame in response to any possible disagreement with your own views doesn’t do your position any favors. If there’s no actual dialog it doesn’t seem much of a conversation.

          The essay of Eco’s that I suggested you look at talks about fakes, it talks about copies, and it talks about multiples. Yes they are different things, and maybe its difficult to understand how they might have something to do with one another. But I suggest that its no more difficult than talking about music as an art, painting as an art, sculpture as an art, etc. Or even talking about artists in one breath. Somehow against all seeming possibility Eco manages to write an engaging essay that puts some of the relationships in context. The essay is actually quite good. I recommend you read it.

          The funny thing for me is that after all the words I’ve put down, all the explanation I’ve given, all the arguments I’ve spelled out, you somehow seem to see me as suggesting “there really isn’t any real definition of art and the ones that have been concluded in the past have all been shot through with holes and are no longer relevant.” Not once did I ever say words to that effect. Nor did I ever suggest that there is nothing but gray areas, only that denying them is quite preposterous. Did my references to Wittgenstein make any sense to you? Its just amazing to me that my position is so misunderstood when the words are all there for inspection. I am trying my best to make it simple and easy to follow. I almost get the impression that you don’t want to understand what I’m arguing…..

          Its almost as if you can’t get beyond the grudge you have against neo-liberals. Is the world really as simple as a difference between this great scourge of the neo-liberal threat and your valiant defense of the ideals of history? Are there no gray areas at all? Are there no innocent bystanders? The trouble with thinking that “You are either with us or against us” is that you alienate all the people on the fence. If you leave no room for ambiguity you end up making your preserve of certainty a tiny and beleaguered island. Which, if you are wondering why so few people seem to cheer your onslaught against the infidel, is where you get when everything that disagrees with you seems to be a ploy of neo-liberal agendas. To be honest, I never even heard the word until you used it……

          Whatever the political implications of the art world that surround us, there are questions that have nothing to do with politics in that sense. I’d love to hear an answer from you that wasn’t just a political diatribe. Remember that old saw about the three blind men groping an elephant? As interesting as the politics of art are, I’d also like to talk about other things…..

          So, if copies are not entangled in some neo-liberal agenda I’d still be willing to hear your take on them. What kinds of copies seem to be art and in what sense, and which copies seem less like art and why? If mechanical reproduction is a discriminating criteria, are there artists who legitimately use mechanical reproduction in their work? Is there an inherent difference between the means of distribution and the things that count as art themselves? Does legitimate art and illegitimate copy sometimes function similarly in our society? If so, why is that? Forgetting politics for a moment, is there a sociological explanation? Is there an anthropological explanation? Is there a psychological explanation? Is there an historical explanation? Is there a linguistic explanation? Is there possibly even a biological explanation? If you take all these different perspectives into account I’m not sure the world remains simple…. But possibly even more interesting, I’d wager!

  4. Cater, you’ve gone to great lengths to build a case in the above post that the definition of art lacks any universality, even to the point of saying that there is no “natural category of art” in the world. That’s just not true.
    Of course there is no one category or universal definition of art when you think in terms of the whole entire world of art. But when we narrow our focus down to the US there is some sense of universality when it comes to talking about art and it’s forms. If you narrow it down to painting in the US you can come up with a pretty good consensus of what contemporary painters are concerned with today. It’s not impossible to come to a consensus as to what contemporary writers are concerned with and how they define the art of writing today. It’s completely possible to define what is is that contemporary potter’s are interested in and how they see and define their craft in today’s day and age. There is such a thing as a good pot and a bad pot.

    But then you ask what might be an even more pointed and important question- “Maybe the better question would be to ask how we learned what things counted as art and what things did not”
    I agree.
    I proposed that if we truly want to understand how we have learned what things count as art, what makes art art, then it is important to look at the driving politics behind how we learn and think about art.

    • Agreed Richard.

      The only exception I’d make is that we live in a multicultural society and are subject to global influences. The culture of the United States is no longer an insular condition. You have American potters firing Japanese style anagama wood kilns to produce Korean influenced work. You have French faculty teaching Dutch students in American Universities. There are American Museum shows that focus on German painters. You have American galleries putting on invitational shows that include artists from many continents and many backgrounds. The internet has broadened our reach. The world of art that we experience is not just a straight line of progression from a to b to c to d…. There’s more happening in any one given arts institution than can be shoehorned into easy categories. The influences are everywhere……

      Which is just to say that all the rules we learn are an agglomeration of things from a variety of sources, Painters, sculptors, and writers in America aren’t only interested in one thing but are free to explore many different things. The faculty of any University demonstrates just how diverse any art field is by the eclecticism of its faculty. And students aren’t driven by only one direction they all must adhere to. Its not just one size fits all. Especially if you consider how pressured they are to come up with something ORIGINAL to say.

      Original sometimes means new ways of expressing old ideas, but it also manifests as entirely new ways of doing things. We learn to make art quite often by inventing our own standards. Every movement in the history of art is evidence of some new direction. And we can’t judge the new ideals based on old preconceptions. If art didn’t learn to embrace new ways of doing things would Van Gogh be as admired as he is today? Would we consider Picasso to be more than a remedial painter? Would we have any sympathy for Matisse?

      The only point I’m making is that there are more than one standard of what quality can be appreciated as. Its not one size fits all. Its like we are at a pie judging contest, and someone brings a lemon pie, someone brings a pork pot pie, someone brings a shaving cream pie (you know, the ones that athletes toss at each other’s faces in light moments), and someone brings a pie baked from their dog’s favorite treats. Yes they are all pies. But in what sense are they doing the same things as pies? Do we judge the quality of the lemon pie based on criteria that matter for a hearty pot pie? The only thing they share (and the shaving cream pie not even that) is having a crust. Judging a pie based on its crust is like judging paintings based on their frames…..

      A few months ago I read an article in the Huffington post that clamored for new direction at the MoMA. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-seed/for-moca-los-angeles-a-mo_b_3713771.html) The point of the article was that there are, in fact, different directions that the museum can go. Meaning at minimum that there are multiple directions possible. If its possible to disagree with the direction it is heading, then it seems that painters are NOT, in fact, all doing the same thing. It gave a list of a few dozen prospective painters. A quick perusal of their websites is a good demonstration that not every American painter is interested in the same thing. There is no “consensus of what contemporary painters are concerned with today” that I can find. Is it realism? Expressionism? Representational? Symbolist? Watercolor? Oil? Collage? Mixed media?

      Getting artists to agree on just about anything seems folly. Certainly not the direction of their work. Consensus is such a strong word. But in the absence of unilateral consensus its not simply chaos. We do the things we are driven to do, but difference is not the end of the world. The result is plurality. Multiplicity. Nuance. Difference. Consensus is the last thing I’d ever expect from artists, much less a global community…….

      That’s how it seems from over here in Athens, and maybe Athens is just more diverse than other places. I don’t know. The great thing about a college town is that it draws in so many influences and embraces so much diverse culture. I just discovered a Vietnamese restaurant that I adore. The Thai food here is pretty good. Its lacking an Ethiopian restaurant for my tastes, but the Peruvian cuisine is outstanding. There are plenty of art galleries in and around the town, plenty of hard working artists scraping by doing what they dream of. And everyone seems to have their own shtick. Go to any art market or gallery and you will see an incredible diversity of imagination and direction. Art is thriving despite not always living in the limelight. There’s more happening in a little town like Athens than can be captured in all the dusty halls of a place like the MoMA.

      And the university’s campus, where many of these artists trained, is a true reflection of that diversity. One years MFA show has little resemblance to the next. Every year its something different. Isn’t there something positive in that diversity? Isn’t there joy to be found in the wide expression of human creativity? That we CAN dream different dreams? ‘Consensus’ is such a restrictive word. ‘Consensus’ speaks of conformity rather than freedom. Why would we, as artists, even be interested in consensus? Isn’t the great thing about art that it has license to do things differently? If art was simply a matter of consensus, where would it ever get us? What new ideas would die stillborn in a world only filled with consensus? Isn’t it an artist’s obligation to explore without the ruling thumb of consensus bearing down on him or her? Is the rallying cry of artists “Give me consensus or give me death!” Doesn’t seem likely…….

      That’s just how it seems to me……

  5. i think you are missing the point. Consensus among artists doesn’t mean we are all painting the same thing.
    Think of it in terms of your restaurant analogy. There are many restaurants serving a wide array of foods, but they are all restaurants. You seem to be suggesting that because there are a wide, diverse, multicultural array of restaurants with different focuses that there is no way for anyone to be able to decide which is a good restaurant and which is a bad one. That’s just silly. We can use our knowledge about food preparations, ingredients, and food histories to talk about the various qualities of food served in restaurants and easily determine which ones suck, which ones are really great, and even which ones are mediocre. We can do the same thing about different art forms.

    What you seem to be saying over and over in your posts is that the art world is so widely diverse that there is no real way to discern differences in quality. Not only is that not true, I think it’s a dangerous troupe to be repeating. Why? (here I go again) Because it plays into the neo-liberal ideology that is flooding the art organizational world. An ideology that is dismissing artists for a populist notion of art as an economic development tool.

    • Would you know mediocre Senegalese food if you ate it? HOW would you know the difference? You are so sure the ideals of quality are universal, but where would you start if you didn’t already know what the goals and rules are? Spicy? Not spicy enough? Too much mustard seed? How the hell would you know if you didn’t have a background in discriminating those specifics? You say “We can use our knowledge about food preparations, ingredients, and food histories to talk about the various qualities of food served in restaurants and easily determine which ones suck, which ones are really great, and even which ones are mediocre.” That makes me howl with laughter! Where in all that is there room for personal preferences? What if I simply don’t like Indonesian food? Am I still an objective judge of it? Not only is it not as easy as you suggest, but you are absolutely right that it comes down to “our knowledge”. And the interesting thing is that knowledge not only reflects education but preferences and biases. If you are looking for what counts as a consensus of knowledge you’d have more luck looking at the Congressional floor. You see the humor in that, right?

      Mexican food uses lots of cumin, chili peppers, and jalapeños. What makes good Mexican food is that it uses all these ingredients in a way that people agree adds up to quality (For your information: I NEVER SAID THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS QUALITY). Now switch to an Italian restaurant and try using the things that made Mexican food such outstanding quality. You would, in fact, ruin your shrimp scampi by loading it up with cumin and chili peppers. It would be a BAD RESTAURANT that tried serving that dish. Do you see what I’m saying? That there are DIFFERENT measures of quality? Quality means different things in different circumstances. Italian food COUNTS AS ITALIAN FOOD because it aims at a specific standard of quality. You go to an Italian restaurant to experience Italian food. The things that make it ‘good Italian food’ are not the same things that make Mexican food ‘good Mexican food’. Quality is not just one thing. Its not the same thing in all instances. Would a vegetarian have the same opinion of quality as a meat eater? Obviously they both have strong opinions on quality, but must they agree for quality to exist? Quality doesn’t need your agreement, and it doesn’t need consensus.

      What makes a County song good? Is it THE SAME THING that makes an improvisational Jazz tune good? How about avant garde Jazz and a swing orchestra? Rock and Roll and Baroque Classical music? If its the same thing that makes all these different things good, then how is it actually that people prefer some things and not others? Why do some people say that Classical music is good music and that Rap music and Hip hop are crap? Why do some people think just the opposite? Where is the consensus there? Quality doesn’t need your agreement, and it doesn’t need consensus.

      Since you seem so hung up on the idea that there is just one sense of quality (and I really only think you require this because it serves your political agenda rather than being the facts that lead you to them), what necessarily counts as quality in all cases of an art form? Name just one thing. And since your perspective seems to require consensus it had better be a good one. No exceptions, or you undermine whatever thread of universality and objectivity you cling to.

      The funny thing is that we have this idea of objectivity from the world of the natural sciences, where they are dealing with a manifestation of order that can be grouped into different natural kinds. Things can be described in terms of biology, they can be described in terms of chemistry, and they can be described in terms of physics. But the interesting thing is that these different levels of analysis don’t coordinate. They don’t match up. Every attempt at reducing them all to common principles has failed, and perhaps will always fail. Which brings us to the truth that scientists themselves are not always in agreement. The one thing that should perhaps be expected to have the most uniformity is riven by disagreements. If there is no real consensus among scientists why would we ever expect there to be among artists? Which DOESN”T MEAN THAT WE CAN”T STILL DO SCIENCE. Quality doesn’t need your agreement, and it doesn’t need consensus.

      You seem to think the only way people can do art, or whatever, is if they all agree on the idea of quality. The truth is more that there are as many ideas of quality as there are of different ways of doing things. I can make fabulous Italian food without understanding what makes Mexican food good. I don’t need to understand it because its NOT THE SAME. Any insight I have into Italian food is irrelevant to what I do or do not know about Mexican food. The idea of quality is not a blanket that covers everything. Its not even a patchwork that covers everything. What it really seems to be is separate ideals that pertain to separate practices. There are a plurality of practices, and each one asks for its own ideals of quality. Quality doesn’t need your agreement, and it doesn’t need consensus.

      A good move in chess has nothing to do with a good move in Monopoly. There is no universal sense of quality that makes either of those moves good. The fact that we know what makes a move good in chess just means that we have learned to play chess. The fact that we can make a good move in Monopoly means that we have learned to play Monopoly……. The fact that we can make a quality realist painting means we have learned how to paint realistically. The fact that we can make a quality expressive painting means that we have learned to paint expressively. The skills and understanding that make us good at one have nothing really to do with the skills and understanding that make us good at the other. If they actually did, then you’d logically have to say that we’d need to be able to run the gamut of artistic possibility just to do any one thing at all. Its simply not necessary. Quality doesn’t need your agreement, and it doesn’t need consensus.

      We are specialists more often than not. And specializations are special for a reason. They are special because they ARE NOT what other things are. They are special because they have THEIR OWN RHYME AND REASON. They have their own sense of WHAT COUNTS FOR QUALITY. Quality doesn’t need your agreement, and it doesn’t need consensus.

      I honestly think that your whole agenda is simply trying to fit the facts about diversity in the world into a straight jacket of conformity with your commitment to certain political ideals. If universal quality is the foundation you base all your beliefs on give me an example. Just one. And if we two can agree on that example we still need to account for every instance where there are counter examples and inconsistencies with that. The fact of quality that two or more people can agree on doesn’t exclude contradictory interpretations and practices that are based on different starting points. Quality doesn’t need your agreement, and it doesn’t need consensus.

      Does that make sense? Can I affirm the idea of quality at the same time as I acknowledge different standards? Standards that may conflict with one another? Standards that may be based on different assumptions? Standards that may implicate different practices and different roles? Does a commitment to quality necessarily mean a commitment to only one version of it? Richard, it just seems like you want to play chess, and you move the pieces of every other game as if we were all playing chess. If I know what a good move looks like in chess I may still not know what a good move in checkers is. I may have no information on good moves in Monopoly, and it won’t tell me how to play poker or bridge. What defines quality in games? That you take pieces? That you put the King in check? That you build hotels on every property? That you make tricks? That you win the pot? That your bluffs work? That you score the goal? That you kick the field goal? That your power play is dominant? That you knock your opponent out or win on points?

      What on earth do you mean by suggesting that assessing quality is easy? What on earth do you mean that our knowledge necessarily leads to some sort of uniformity or consensus? If anything, the more we know the further apart we drift in many if not most cases. The more we know the more fragmented we are. Consensus is the dream of only a few. There is no consensus even on the idea of consensus. Do you see the irony in that? Its like the idea of God we hold before us when we encounter the infidels. We affirm that God exists despite every other person who denies it. Some people simply need the idea of God to make sense of the world. But not everyone does. Some people need the idea of universal quality to make sense of the world. Not everyone does…….. Where exactly does that leave us?

  6. Again, you are jumping all over the room. Mexican food and Italian food each have different qualities. Having knowledge about Senegalese food is one way we are able to discern good or well made Senegalese food from bad. You fill a room with people that really know about the various types of italian food and if you present them with a tabled filled with dishes ranging from Olive Garden to Mario Batali, you will be able to get a consensus from those people on which dishes are the better quality ones. Why is that so hard for you to understand?

    Now what i think you are trying to get at is that if you were to fill that same room with people who don’t really have much knowledge about italian food, or good food in genera,l you probably won’t get any consensus. And I think you are trying to make some type of a case that that means something profound when it comes to thinking about art.
    To me all that means is that the room is filled with people who may or may not have different taste in italian food. So what?
    You don’t have to know shit about anything to have a opinion about something. But does that make that opinion worthwhile? Does that opinion have the same weight or importance and meaningfulness compared to an educated, knowledgable opinion? NO, of course not. You wouldn’t say that it did if you were talking about medicine or even car repair. Do you want you computer repaired by a knowledge expert in the field or some guy that just thinks he knows more than he actually does?
    So why is art any different? The answer can’t just be because you think Art is diverse. Science is diverse. Geology is diverse. Italian food is diverse. That doesn’t mean there is no bad italian food. There is. Sbarro pizza sucks.

    As I have tried to explain above, a question like “What necessarily counts as quality in all cases of an art form?” is a very broad question. As you get more specific in your question the answers can become more specific, but I can think a several answers to your question.
    1. Uniqueness is a high or important quality in a work of art.
    2. That a work is relevant to the times is an important quality.
    3. That a work of art has a relationship to the history of it’s form is an important quality in art.
    4. A new development or breakthrough in it’s form is a very important quality. (That’s not to say that tradition is also an important quality in some art)
    I could go on and on. Anyone who knows the least bit about art or is the least bit interested in it’s history could easily come to a consensus that these are important qualities in a work of art.
    Why is this so difficult to understand?

    • Well, at least we agree that education is important as a means of discerning quality. And I agree that specific answers have to answer specific questions. Where we disagree is that the general question even makes sense. No matter how broadly a person is educated in art practice and art history it won’t be a comprehensive account. You seem to insist on a God’s eye perspective. Good luck, buddy!

      Your response to the ‘big question’ you seem fixated on is revealing about the sorts of confusion we seem inclined to. “Uniqueness” is about as imprecise as you could have put it. Unique from one artist to the next or each individual work something unique? To what extent unique? In kind or in degree? If all you mean is that its different in some small way, what isn’t? Is that a measure of quality? Is everything that is unique necessarily good? Or does it need to be unique in the big sense of radically different? Are all radically different expressions necessarily signs of quality? Can something be unique, but uniquely bad? In what way is the uniqueness of a thing even related to its sense of quality? You’ve actually not told us anything about quality with this answer.

      Being “relevant to the times” Is also about as nebulous as could be. Taking a crap on toilets is relevant to the times, but I’m not sure how this leads us to a sense of quality. If the Beatles were more popular than God, they were at least as relevant, but making Justin Beiber an icon of quality just seems preposterous. Kim Kardashian is fairly relevant, but I’m not at all certain what sense her relevance to the times has any bearing on quality. Again you’ve said absolutely nothing about quality itself. If Kim Kardashian is both fairly unique and relevant to the times, is this an example you’d propose? If you don’t think she is it must be because neither uniqueness nor relevance have much to do with quality. Right?

      “Having a relationship to the history” also tells us nothing at all. It can be a relationship of circumstance or a relation of lineage. In a sense all painting ever done is related to the history of painting, in the sense that its all painting. Does that mean that all painting is therefor necessarily an embodiment of quality? “A relationship” tells us nothing in itself. Ice cream could be related to camping trips because I like to have a cup of chocolate ice cream whenever I go camping. Being related means nothing in itself. You haven’t said how something must be related. The history of sculpture is related to the history of painting. Does that make good sculpture good painting? I am related to my cousin who has spent years in jail. How does this relationship reflect on me? What does relationship have to do with quality at all? What inferences can you draw from “being related”?

      “A new breakthrough” indicating quality is actually a tautology in the sense that ‘breakthrough’ already implies quality. Its like saying things that are good have quality. it doesn’t explain anything. Once again you’ve said absolutely nothing directly informative about quality. What makes something a breakthrough? Are there only good breakthroughs only or are there bad ones too? Can art be good while not counting as a breakthrough? Is it essential that every good work of art is a breakthrough? If only some good works of art are breakthroughs why would you even bring it up? Its like saying that some good paintings have the color blue in them? Does that MAKE IT good? Does the kind of breakthrough even matter? Are there different kinds, and if so, do they all lead to the same measure of quality? Is my emotional breakthrough as good as my breakthrough at the job I work? What do you even mean by breakthrough? If you can explain it in terms that are not tautological I’ll give you high marks. If you can explain how this is at all necessary for quality in art I’ll be amazed…..

      I hope that the best example we can come up with for quality is not what you propose. I’ve got this image of Kim Kardashian’s grandfather wearing Kim’s gala ball gown at a transgender baseball game played on the White House lawn. Being “unique” seems irrelevant. Being ‘relevant’ seems irrelevant. Being ‘related’ seems irrelevant. And breakthroughs also seem irrelevant. Tick all the boxes of what you suggest and I’m still not sure what we come up with…..

      Nice try, though. If you’d like to try again, I suggest you think about necessary and sufficient criteria. If you think it can be done without either necessary or sufficient criteria then you are simply admitting that there is nothing either necessarily true about quality in art, or that there is no one thing sufficient to determine the quality of art. Maybe the plurality is the best we can do……

  7. Jesus, Carter, what gets you up in the morning? What keeps you from just lying there and thinking that there is no necessary criteria to ever get up again? What keeps you from thinking that there is absolutely no reason to ever make another hand made coffee mug; one mug is just as good as another and maybe other people prefer a plastic cup? What drives you to flip over ever rock on the beach and seeing that none of them are the same pronounce that there is no rhyme or reason to anything in life?

    You can’t ask a question like “What is one quality that all art shares?” and then make a goal of picking apart any general answer than might apply in some way. What’s your point?

    What is your point? That Art doesn’t really mean anything because there is no universal aspect to it? That Art is so diverse or has so many different reasons for being made that we should…..what?….call anything and everything Art? Are you arguing for a world where Thomas Kinkaide should be collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Do you want the end of art institutions and more art centers for people to “make a bird house in one day”?
    What is you point?

    • This is the last I will say. If you don’t get it this time I’m not really interested in what your response will be. Its frustrating being misrepresented and continually misunderstood no matter how plainly I present things. Maybe it is my fault, but I’m done with it. See if this last plunge in the icy waters makes sense:

      I don’t think there is any one or even a series of qualities that all art or even good art necessarily shares. We call different things art because…. this is what we call them. End of story. But you, on the other hand, seem to require that there is something fundamental. Something essential. And the funny thing is that you don’t see this as a culturally conditioned agenda. You seem to look out at the landscape of art and life and imagine that a lack of grounding principles is unconscionable. Its as if you don’t understand how people live without them. But (for the fiftieth time) not having necessary reasons doesn’t mean we have no reasons. You seem to unerringly fail to grasp this at every turn. And if that puts things on the level of contingency, it must be what keeps you up at night. If you believe that there is no meaning without ultimate meaning I suppose the world has to look pretty bleak without the holy choir singing. No wonder you have such fears for a world where people don’t believe in Angels and the Holy Art Gospels…..

      But your attempted sympathy is misplaced. It seems like you think the only way there can be any meaning at all is that there is some transcendent version of it. If you are waiting for God to give meaning to your life, that’s all very well and good, but you have to understand that not everyone faces the day with holy zeal. And still, people find meaning in their lives and what they do. Not everyone makes sense of the world as manifest signs of a higher power. Not everyone sees their destiny fulfilled in Holy Purpose. Not everyone looks at the world and wants to hold it to the standards and institutions of the Art Holy Church. You have faith in this higher meaning for art and I’m happy for you. If that gives meaning to your life it serves a noble purpose. But the thing that seems a bit rude is that you take that value as something the rest of us have to live by. If you can’t see that there is meaning in people’s life without a faith in the higher purpose of art, I assure you that the rest of us are not as lost as you imagine us to be. We are not living in the squalid poverty of meaninglessness. You may tell us we are all fated for creative hell or some Art Purgatory, but not everyone believes the Art Gospels the way that you do.

      Your desire to keep out the riff raff is understandable, but its also the position of every apologist for some personal or institutional agenda. You often seem surprised that other people don’t agree with you. Surely Kinkade wouldn’t mind being shown in the MMoA. There IS disagreement you need to account for. So you proclaim that there are these objective criteria that back your agendas, that this is how they are justified. But the best you can offer is that this is how YOU see the world. I actually care what you think, but it doesn’t mean I have to bathe in the Baptismal or practice Communion. Not everyone drinks the cool-aide…..

      You have absolutely no idea why other people see things differently than you do. And you seem to think this is THEIR problem. You seem surprised that other people find other sources of meaning in the world. To me the shocking thing would be that they didn’t. But when we start from a position of faith, the world often seems to explain itself according to our beliefs. In that case we are only looking for evidence in so far as it supports our position. If we start from that place, rather than skepticism or even agnosticism, we are as liable to see the hand of Zeus in a thunderstorm as the Higher Purpose in Art. Its not that the facts lead us to these conclusions but that our assumptions are given credence by the ‘evidence’. Just like that TV host questioning doctors in that Eco Essay I quoted…..

      I simply think that art serves human needs, and that these needs are as diverse as the people living with art in their lives. Its possible that some art serves no purpose what so ever. Shocking, I know! If someone has an idea to move in that direction, more power to them. Its not a threat to art. It doesn’t destroy meaning. Meaning isn’t such a fragile flower. Purpose isn’t some flimsy wisp of silk. Art can stand up for a huge diversity of human interest. You seem to believe that it cannot, and that’s your prerogative. You don’t like Kinkade, fine. You have your holy institutions that are the preserve of one kind of meaning, of one kind of art. That’s just great. But what you have is simply one church among many. What you have is simply one way of looking at the world, and its not everybody’s way of looking. The world is full of wicked and obdurate sinners and especially unbelievers. Surprise! 🙂

      If the thing that gets you up in the morning is your fervent beliefs, I’m happy for you. And you can complain that the world is going to hell because the unbelievers are trampling all your holy temples and using rosaries as decorative necklaces. Its a tough world for those of the chosen faith, I imagine. But in complaining that the world doesn’t exactly fit your own views you end up in the position of the missionary who steps into an African village and criticizes the people for worshiping idols. You have no idea what they believe or why. You are not interested in their truth. There is nothing that they have to teach you. Your mind is closed to anything but the Holy Writ. You have the right of paternalistic do-goodery on your side. You have the manifest destiny of a colonizing power. You believe that everything that contradicts your own point of view is necessarily false. You are not interested in reasons unless they support your position. And you sleep well at night because you have the conviction of the righteous. You don’t doubt because you don’t question. And if you are not prepared to question you can’t always have a rational conversation about it. Because, the belief that sustains you is not something that sprang from rationality. Faith is often prerational. Its not always open to examination. Which is why it always seems I am wasting my time responding to you…..

      One last effort to sum things up: I’m just saying that the hard line you draw in the sand is not the same line drawn by every person. Your faith is not the faith of every person. We all have to share this planet, and we perhaps all want to shape it in our own interests. That seems a very human thing to do. Some people who have religious fervor about their mission want it all to look all the same, their vision of the pearly gates and the halls of Mount Olympus. Proselytize all you want, Richard. Some of the things you value are worth endorsing, Despite the zealotry that pushes them. But it won’t stop other people from having different opinions and different sources of meaning in the world.

      You may wish Kinkade had never been born, had never picked up a brush. But he did. The human condition is to seek meaning, so why would we be surprised that it is so often found in so many places? My meaning does not defeat your meaning, and so on down the line. Personally, I can accept that other people are different from me and value diverse other things. Not everyone values tolerance, but tolerance is not the same thing as meaninglessness. Do you even see that? Kinkade is not a threat to the meaning of art as much as he is a threat to institutional intolerance. The barbarians are at the gate. That too is meaningful…….

      This is my last word in this conversation. Don’t bother responding. As hard as I’ve tried to make sense to you it seems obvious that I will only ever fail. No matter how straightforward I present things or how many times I have to repeat myself its not making any difference. The lack of actual conversation is draining, as serious as I’ve been about it. Its a waste of my time, at this point. I guess its always been a waste of time. All I’ve gotten in return for the pearls and diamonds has been ashes and pebbles. But I’ll dance a few turns around my heathen idols in your honor. I wish you well.

      Good luck to you Richard. Good bye.

      • I believe that Art has been and still is human beings greatest endeavors in life. Generations of people have come and gone but Art remains as a historical reference to what people in the past thought and dreamed about. Art is important because it is also a philosophy. It helps one to think about things in a certain light. Art can help you become self actualized, it can help you think in more broad terms, it can help you figure out profound questions about life and death, and it can be fun and entertaining.

        I believe all of those things not because I made up all of those reason’s or that some Holy Smoke made me think this way but because I have educated myself about the history and philosophy of art.
        This education is available to anyone, anywhere who is interested in such education. I didn’t invent it or make it up. It’s out there for you.
        I believe that if you choose to educate yourself and immerse yourself in Art your life would be more rich and rewarding.
        I also believe if you are not interested in art then by al means don’t waste your time. Do something else you enjoy.

        That’s it in a nut shell. I don’t believe, as Carter goes to great lengths to suggest, that I’m holier than anyone else, or that i am better than anyone else.

        What I do insist, is that if you are going to talk about art that you do so intelligently. Because if you don’t and if what you say about art isn’t true or is misconstrued,like when Carter says…”We call different things art because…. this is what we call them. End of story” .. well then you are going to get an argument from me because that is just plain untrue.

        • PS. Kinkade isn’t a threat to the institution of art as much as he is a threat to individual intelligence. He’s kitsch and as such he created a 2nd rate product to capitalize on the idea of real art. He manufactured and manipulated a market that was disguised as art work. He abused the trust between the public and the artists to the point that what he created was a fraud. A fraud so great that even he couldn’t completely convinced himself of the lie, which resulted in him literally drinking himself to death.

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