Friday, November 10, 2006
Is it art?
Last night, Jessica’s question (about Thomas Kinkaid’s work being art) started an interesting conversation that we couldn’t finish. I’d like to put my ten cents: Let’s start with Arthur Danto’s suggestion that a definition of art cannot be given “a priori” (that is, independent of the experience of artworks) because art can only be measured against artistic production. Some people believe that art is only “one thing” and that's it (i.e., an object should not be considered “art” if it doesn’t fit such model). That approach is limited. Why? Say you live in 1940’s New York. The art of the moment is Abstract Expressionism (coming from prior European modern traditions in Europe). How would you have received a 1965 exhibit at MOMA entitled The Responsive Eye, showing so-called “Op Art?” If you were establishment, you’d have rejected it –as many well-known critics (Greenberg, Barbara Rose, Thomas Hess) did. Why? It didn’t fit the norms. Yet, today, Op Art is recognized as an important post-war art movement. How to avoid this pitfall? We know Praxiteles excelled among Athenian artists. He had remarkable craft and personal style. The reason we value his art as “canonical” is that he “fits” the tenets of Greek tradition, yet was able to push this tradition a little bit. From Praxiteles’ model, I’d like to suggest a tentative criterion for assessing “good” art: 1- Craft (meaning technical skill, proficiency), 2- Personal style (individuality that enriches and yet “fits” a given tradition), 3- The acknowledgment of peers. In a more distant place, 4- Being accepted in the canon. To judge a given work one must apply the four elements together. Now, to answer the initial question I’d like to bring forth Miami’s Romero Britto. Does he produce art? Most people in the art scène would say, “Of course not.” But Britto’s work has a personal style; his craft is what it is (I’d say that he executes it properly). Finally, though the critics don’t accept him, he’s famous and figures in many important collectors’ collections. He has some degree of peer recognition but his work has yet to survive the canon. Will it? I don’t know. We have to wait. In the meantime, is it art? Possibly. Is it good? Surely not as good as that of other Pop artists, like Warhol, Ruscha and Lichtenstein, whose influence in Britto's work is quite clear. Naïve? Decorative? It depends what you’re looking for. Sometimes you crave a Big Mac instead of a Lobster Termidor; sometimes you want a cheap Tempranillo to down a tapa instead of a Burgundy. Now, apply that method to Kinkaid's work.