Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Is it art?
A few classes ago (I don’t remember) Romero Britto came up (whether his work could be called “art”). I’d like to put my ten cents: Let’s start with philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto. He suggests that we are not in a position to come up with an “a priori” definition of art (independent of the experience of artworks), because art can only be measured against the whole production of art throughout history. Some 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). 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. Recently, I had a discussion with a group of people that don’t recognize performance art as a relevant 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 of some sort), 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 historic canon. To judge a given work, one must apply the four elements together. Now, to answer the initial question: Does Romero Britto make art? Some people in the art scène would say, “Of course not.” However, Britto’s work has a personal style. His art exhibits a degree of craft (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 Britto’s art become critically recognized at some point? 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 Britto's work.