What is Art?
This is certainly a much more enormous question than those three short words make it seem. I will probably come back to this question hundreds of times in this blog, but here are some initial thoughts:
Usually, when people ask this question, they have some rather difficult to define modern piece in mind: (is a factory-produced urinal, signed (with an invented name), and placed on a pedestal art?)
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917
For many other things, we have less trouble defining them as art. What about the stunningly intricate page of a manuscript from the middle ages:
Artist Unknown, Chi-rho-iota Page from The Book of Kells, eighth/ninth century
We classify this as art without hesitation, and yet, when it was made, it was part of a devotional practice, not necessarily meant to be thought of as art as such but as devotion to god. The artist is unknown, and he would most certainly not considered himself an artist as such, but a monk, and perhaps a craftsman.
What art is, differs across time and space, across cultures.
But here's the definition I find most satisfying, and the one I think about when I write this blog: Art is an object, or an action framed in such a way as to make us reflect on and/or question our understanding of the world.
Thus, Duchamp's Fountain is art because we stop and ask (among other things) "woah! what is this doing in a museum? Does the artist have the right to take credit for a urinal, made in a factory?
The Chi-rho-iota Page is art because we search for clues of a story among the intricate details.
The word "framed" is very important in my definition: art is about the context within which we interact with an object or action. Thus a dinner party, for example, could be just a dinner party. Or if we stop and ponder the human connection, ceremony and tradition it represents, then a dinner party is art. In fact, the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, in his 1992 performance Untitled (Free) invited guests to an art gallery to help prepare and eat thai curry and rice, turning the act of eating, for this moment, into art.
Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled (Free) 1992 David Zwirner Gallery, NY (photo credit)
So what do you think about this definition? What is art to you?