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.

14 comments:

Franklin said...

Walter Darby Bannard once wrote, "Those who attack Greenberg broadly first get him wrong and then flog their own misunderstanding." With all due respect to this class and its teacher, the above assertion that attaches "believ[ing] that art is only 'one thing' and that's it" to Greenberg via Op Art contradicts both Greenberg's aesthetic framework and the facts about his life. Greenberg took Op seriously enough as art to have prolonged contact with one of its most noted practitioners, Larry Poons. Greenberg's tastes swung wide enough that more dedicated formalists scolded him for his generosity. Characterizing him as a paragon of inflexibility is a caricature that does no service to him or anyone's understanding about art.

See here for a related discussion in which your teacher participated. The category of art is defined mostly by common understanding and presentation, and it has a fuzzy border. That's definition enough. Whether an instance of it is good depends less on what you're looking for and more on your talent for seeing it. And that Kincaid is art. Very bad art. Best of luck to you, Jessica, whomever you are.

Michele Rowand said...

If Thomas Kincaide painted a cottage with glowing windows in a forest and nobody looked at it would it still be art? We could get all crazy here with the "supposes".

Kincaides signature is the strategic warm glow that his paintings exhibit which sets up their nostalgia. He can make what would actually be a smokey uneven fire under a thatched roof would have likely leaked when the wind direction changed look all warm and cozy. Good painters are always trying new visual methods - impressionists wanted to catch a moment in the light. They were not allowed to be part of the mainstream at the start. They certainly are part of the canon now and time tested.

I think with humor of the "death before disco" cry of the 70s where the attitude was "real rock musicians" would rather die then to do a song that was played on records in discos because it meant they were sell outs to popular culture. It wasn't that many decades before that rock music wasn't considered real music.

Kincaide has marketed to the common masses. You can buy his plates from an Avon catalogue along with cheap perfume. So does that mean when marketing enters - art goes out the door?

There are those art experts right now spinning in their graves at the fact that a Jackson Pollock sold for so many milliions just last week. Can you hear it? It's like a giant roulette wheel clicking?

History does love to repeat.

A.T. said...

Welcome to our humble abode, F. You don’t have to defend Greenberg with me. I respect his combative prose and perceptive eye. Yet, I can see his shortcomings. Both Sylvia Harrison’s in her Pop Art and the Origins of Post-modernism and Valerie Hillings's fine catalogue essay for Beyond Geometry, Experiments in Form 1940-1970 comment that Greenberg disliked “The Responsive Eye” curated by William Seitz and dismissed Op-Art. That he kept in touch with Poons doesn’t contradict the fact. There are reasons for his aversion: The movement was essentially European and he distrusted it at a time of American artistic supremacy; he didn’t like Op-Art’s persistent involvement with optical illusion at a time when his mantra of "flatness” as a painting's essence was still very strong. He did the same with Conceptual Art, not to mention his uneasiness with Minimalist sculpture. These original manifestations (recognized by the art canon) were rejected by Greenberg's rigid theoretical grid.

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Franklin said...

My Beyond Geometry catalogue got donated to the local library when I moved. For a reason.

One can skip Hillings and anyone writing a monograph on postmodernism and go straight to Greenberg himself. He characterized Op as an "academic attempt to look up-to-date" in one of his Bennington lectures. He didn't reject Op as art - he identified (correctly!) that it wasn't producing better work. That's a crucial distinction that you're railroading up there for the sake of a point about a "limited approach" held by "some people," a group of folks that doesn't include Greenberg, and I have my doubts about Rose and Hess.

Why go through all this? Because the art world as it stands requires periodic construction, and burning, of unflattering effigies of Greenberg, preferably made out of straw. A whole industry sprung up around the demonization of his person and ideas. That industry continues today, so that modern academics still talk about his "rigid theoretical grid" even though he didn't have one. I will predict to your students that no other thinker put in front of them this semester will be made the subject of such egregious distortions and hollow arguments. I would invite them to find out why.

A.T. said...

Why go through all this? Because the art world as it stands requires periodic construction, and burning, of unflattering effigies of Greenberg, preferably made out of straw. Franklin, I have to say that it's not my intention to paint such picture. Read me carefully. In my post I say that Greenberg "rejected Op-Art because it didn't fit his norms." And he did. There's no railroading. In fact, I'd love my students to read more of Greenberg's output. As per this statement: I will predict to your students that no other thinker put in front of them this semester will be made the subject of such egregious distortions and hollow arguments. I would invite them to find out why. You're more than welcome to participate. ART 106 is an open forum!

maya aujla said...

Judging whether art is good or not is more of a personal opinion than anything else. I do agree that Britto’s work should be considered art and I see it as something that is progressing with time. According to Triff’s brief explanation of “good” art, Britto definitely fits the criteria. He stands out as an artist because of his personal style that is unique. The use of bright, flat colors in combination with patterns is what appeals to people who do accept him and like his work. I did find it quite interesting that his work made it into the Schwarzenegger collection. I don’t expect every person out there to have the same likes and dislikes about every artist, but people should at least acknowledge that Britto does have some talent and creativity.

Dominic Halley-Roarke said...

I never crave a BicMac, at least not an American one, having been to Argentina & had theirs-the difference is amazing.
Britto fascinates me because of the effect he seems to have on people who like him--they get all gushy and mushy; its almost like catnip to a cat. It has the opposite effect on me; I can't stand to let my eyes stay on one of his pieces for more than seconds. There is a sense of overall physical irritation or annoyance if I do; a disturbing sense of over-stimulation that I don't get from other pop art with psychodelic elements-for example, Peter Max-which I rather enjoy. Britto's work seems calculated to stun a certain type of person into submission. It would be interesting to take brainwave measurements as subjects view various types of work--then compare the results to other extreme stimuli, like drugs of various intensities, or music.

Ernie Marc Selditch said...

Is it art? Art is in the heart of the beholder: The eye itself, is not so judgmental. So the question “is it art” may sway toward the rhetorical. The word it self has ancient roots. To trace a word’s root is like following a family tree or like evolution of a kind. To quote directly from the “Online Etymological Dictionary” www.etymonline.com:

“art (n.)
c.1225, "skill as a result of learning or practice," from O.Fr. art, from L. artem, (nom. ars) "art, skill, craft," from PIE *ar-ti- (cf. Skt. rtih "manner, mode;" Gk. arti "just," artios "complete;" Armenian arnam "make," Ger. art "manner, mode"), from base *ar- "fit together, join" (see arm (1)). In M.E. usually with sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c.1305), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts (divided into the trivium -- grammar, logic, rhetoric -- and the quadrivium --arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from 1386. Sense of "cunning and trickery" first attested c.1600. Meaning "skill in creative arts" is first recorded 1620; esp. of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1668. Broader sense of the word remains in artless (1589). As an adj. meaning "produced with conscious artistry (as opposed to popular or folk) it is attested from 1890, possibly from infl. of Ger. kunstlied "art song" (cf. art film, 1960; art rock, c.1970). Fine arts, "those which appeal to the mind and the imagination" first recorded 1767. Art brut "art done by prisoners, lunatics, etc.," is 1955, from Fr., lit. "raw art." Artsy "pretentiously artistic" is from 1902. Expression art for art's sake (1836) translates Fr. l'art pour l'art. First record of art critic is from 1865. Arts and crafts "decorative design and handcraft" first attested in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in London, 1888.”

The other question is…is art the process of the artist working or the artifact they produce.
Some artists feel that the creation of their work is what gives them the most joy and this joy is what moves the artist to create works for sale to allow them to continue reaching that zen-like state during the process. Others are simply in it for the money. However is it possible that collectors are trying to get a contact high from the artist’s process buzz and this drives the market (crazy).

Britto, Kincaid may resonate with some folks. Remember someone came up with the idea to sell riverstones as “Pet Rocks”. Was that art? See definition above.

Bryan F. said...

i think that ust because something is mass produced doesnt mean it cant be art. By the same token i also think that the mass production does lessen its artstic quality. Assuming the fisrt of a set was skillfully crafted and slaved over for days, weeks or months...that sounds like art. Now, once they begin being mass-produced to more or less mee the standard of the original you start to stray from the art as you cast aside the time and effort for each piece and focus more on fast production at a sligtly lower level of quality for the sake of making money. If each piece in a set was given the same amount of detail nd effort as the first then this would not apply. Each one would stand alone as a work of art. I think Britto is indeed an artist. The fact that his work appeals to the masses, is collected and well esteemed in the public eye is part of what makes his work "art". Im not sure about his production process, but, assuming that he hasnt created a machine to produce his masses of work, it still has the artists touch and is made in a way that only Britto can do it.

Caro_Marquez said...

I agree with Bryan on this one...

While I understand why other artists would be hesitant to accept works by Britto or Kinkaid as art...Im going to have to argue that mass production does not overide the artistic process and/or intention. Think of Warhol...he believed that as long as you could afford it, you could make art. He created a factory like working space in which images were produced on a large scale...He's an artist, isn't he??? As for Britto, well, I think most artists only dream of the kind of succes his work has. Flat? Empty? Maybe so, but it's still art. Britto's work caters to a large audience, I don't see anything wrong with that...even though I am not a fan of his work. Whether Kinkaid is an artist or not, well, that can be argued of any artit. The man is "talented." Not everyone can create what Michelle referred to as a "warm and cozY" feeling.

I think it ultimately comes down to the classist attitude of the art world...Are the above artist mentioned creators of "High Art"? Or are they sell outs to the masses? What's the difference? and who determines this difference??? Again, we're caught in the undecipherable tangle of the art world.

Christie Llorente said...

Is it art? Well then the next thing that comes to mind, Is there a purpose? If there is a certain attitude or perspective and if the so-called artist is trying to make a statement then I feel that for the most part it would be art. I would consider Romero Britto's work art, now whether I believe it is good art or not, well that is a totally separate issue. Maybe Britto's purpose is to produce art for "decorative" purposes only, maybe he is content with that. I don't think it is up to me however to criticize him or say he is wrong for it.. To each his own I believe. I do however have the choice of not looking at his work.

"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)." Well for those who believe in that statement, I happen to think it's a bunch of crap.. a model? What model? Who decides? People are not models, how could art made by people be a model or fit in to one?

Kelly Flynn said...

I would like to add on to Bryan and Caro’s response about mass production. I have to agree that it somewhat lessens the value and artistic quality to me when I see Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Warhol’s Marylyn’s as sunshields, bags, mouse pads, etc. I hardly doubt that is where they thought their artwork was going to end up. Retailers are still just trying to make a buck out of anything – joking it to death. I warship Warhol and his way of business/art thinking – but I am starting not to care about a lot of his painting because they are so popular and on so many products – if that makes sense.

Francisca said...

I agree as well that mass production of art lessen the immediate value of that single art piece. The true artistry of Kincaid’s work is not the actual painting itself, but the fact that there exists a Thomas Kincaid Gallery in shopping malls across the country. He is an artist because we know his name and can think about the work he has produced. I may think that his work is bad but it does not matter in the least because I’m not his targeted audience. He has successfully found his niche of consumers and created a desired product, and now he is the topic of an art blog.