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Monday, June 9, 2003

Come On - This Argument Is Just A Subset Of The Classic "What Is Art?"

By L. Ford

I am an artist/writer (age 60, female, divorced) living and working in Mexico for the last 10 years. 
I have been following the debate on contemporary art on your site between Hughey and Kami since its inception and have had enough of beating the horse dead!!!!!!!! Diversity breeds differences and this dialectic is a necessary arena to maintain vitality but let's not loose sight of the real and most fundamental issue of which all are subsets. What is Art!
My comments are below.

What is Art

Humanity, at itís simplest, is complex. Art is one resulting product of that humanityís interaction with its reality. It is objectified experience, the result of a relationship that occurs between an individual and his reality. As a phenomenon of human perception, emotion, and expression, even if as a process of becoming yielding further process, it is, in its' finality, product. This product is defined and elaborated in subsets linguistically, philosophically, psychologically, culturally and in many forms as a mirror of the complexity of humanity from which it springs.

Art is "ordinary" in that it is manifestation common to human expression, extraordinary when it evokes a aesthetic response that transcends time and cultural change. Ordinary that evolves to be celebrated extraordinary. Often this extraordinary art is termed great when it peaks as a defining statement of a particular epoch or in relation to other criteria of excellence over the test of time. Really great art needs no marketing, itsí statement cultivates itsí own audience. It is not necessarily context, intent or meaning that awards merit although it may be helpful for students of art or cultural history in placing its significance in reference to a subset. It is that "awe" which the work evokes that renders it great.

Art always first is specifically relative and ordinary, later if it becomes relative generally, will develop an aura "extraordinary". This is art that holds a rapture of aesthetic attention for multiple viewers indifferent of time and place and some instances be held as great . Some art can become extraordinary over time and continued positive or thought provoking critical appraisal, in other words, by marketing of one sort or another often by intentfull, unified critical judgments, and some by itsí unique power to captive with or without critical approval.

The ultimate qualifier of enduring art is the emotional response of the viewer or participant, irrespective of time or place. It is not necessary to explain context, intent or meaning of the artist for its merit to be judged. The experience of interaction is the defining essence of the extraordinary and great.

What seems to me to be most basic in defining what art is is that urge, need, motivation to express in some form of communication, the "awe" of reality. That hold over the experience of it which establishes its identity as awe and is that same awe that propels the artist to action, awe that holds the audience, awe that sustains and prevails.

For as long as man has reflected on his reality, there have been debates over various issues within the subsets of the kinds of art societies produce. Presently, for example, there is a questioning of whether contemporary art is "valid" in its deconstructed expressions, whether purely minimal or grossly exaggerated and all that falls between. One must relegate these considerations to the battle of dominance within subsets. One either embraces art in its most general sense, which qualifies all to be included or one focuses on specific subsets.

Art manifests itself in many styles: realistic, impressionistic, expressionistic, surrealistic, religious, traditional ,contemporary, etc. and a variety of forms: literature, music, theater, poetry, painting, sculpture, etc. It can be good, bad, better, culturally transient or enduring, conforming to standards of acceptance defined by aesthetic norms that are always subject to evolving paradigms. Judgment value is determined by personal and professional critique and consensus ultimately lies within the public domain of mass acceptance of that judgment and the test of time. Culturally it may be ordinary or even radical for itsí time and grow extraordinary with hind sight and retrospective appraisal. Or it finds its obsolescence with reflection and comparative measure. Truly great art transcends boundaries. It is wonder, ahhh, awe!  All explanations, qualifications, justifications are non sequiturs when confronted with that.

Representation functions to give coherence of idea, intention, interpretation and communication to this objectification aroused in the artist and by conscious individualsí receptive interactions to this artistic expression. This representation derives from consciousness participation in life experiences and is dependent on human interpretation for its intrinsic value. It runs the gamut of realistic to abstract, from function to pure form. Different layers of meaning, I call "sediments" laid upon this "product" yield varied interpretations and emphasis and may well obscure the initial intent but the base product remains as a sort of reality, reaction to reality or created reality of and by the artist-author creator of the work.

As evolution of form, art, even when defined as existing in a natural state, is still product. Earliest forms designated as "art" were dominated by that phenomenon of human perception and expression which the earliest "artists" experienced. Cave art is product that legitimize one of the earliest free art markets. Geographic influences and cultural biases influenced the flourishing of diversity of this and other forms and styles but the "awe" that created and sustains it is one and the same.

The subsets of the various kinds of art are no less equal to the complexities of humanity itself. Ideology is not valid without critique and the essential components of judgments rely on both critique and the evolution of the various art forms. Certainly some forms are influenced by Marxian economics and continental philosophy, others by market driven cultures like the plasticity that characterizes the capitalism of the United States and the modern manic materialism of Italy and Spain.

In this century, more acutely than in others, there is a ruthless economics for profit that dominates a world now globalized. One has only to count the number of "biennials" that have sprung up in countries and continents. It is spectator or curator sport? Is it so heretical to view this as a modern version of the sport a Roman coliseum? One has only to review the numerous controversies presently swirling around the Tate Modern in England. Many say controversy is great promotion, translated e-c-o-n-o-m-I-c-s, as it keeps art and the artists in the front of the consumer audience. While that may be true, is it really art or the artistry of manipulation? and by whom? venue, curator, artist, agent, marketplace? Granted internationalism encourages multi-ethnic and polycentric participation, these archipelic extravaganza, however, smack of cultural economics rather than valid evolving artistic viewpoints. This lends a dangerous "fault line" factor to what was historical viewed as an avant garde ? What used to be a quintessential byword is just one of many variations of a performance art that is a transitory regurgitation of media driven globalization. Where does this leave "art" to go?

In a world dizzy with daily new jolting hotspots, individuals turn inward for renewal. Interestingly poetry seems to be the form of spontaneity that mostly springs from the wounded spirit, crying out  and coincidentally poetry is very much now in the forefront of many American art issues at a time where art funding is being drastically cut. Additionally much contemporary art now is an outgrowth of advances in technology and from brash mainstreaming of cultures and its inherent alienation. But those are again issues of subsets and should not limit or control exploration nor experimentation. Controversy and contemporary have always been linked and always will as long as their is diversity and creative change. What"art" must deal with the ahh! of awe not the ughh! of awful. Artistic dialogue on aspects of the subsets is a necessary dialectic for the integrity and vitality of the "product" but they are subsets. The issue is expression and its forms are the modes by which we maintain vitality. Life is change, so are the manifestations of expression.The test of time and awe will define value from fashion. It takes care of itself. We are not the sentinels of humanity nor of art.

We have glances through cracks in reality. Art is one of them. From the earliest vestiges of manís objectification of his world to the present, at its simplest and most complex, art is and remains the product of a quest for the holy grail of the Everyman and his human spirit. Wonder and the ahh! of "awe".


I hope this essay will focus the energy of these individuals in a much more productive direction. Too much "minutia" looses site of the dynamics of "art"! Thank you for the opportunity to put forth my opinion.

Regards, L. Ford


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