There was this moment I had once, while sitting in a movie theater watching the previews. I don’t remember the flick, the one that I was there for, but I definitely remember the particular preview. It was about as normal as normal could be. There was a pretty quiet scene, some explosion, and then that red cape flashed across the screen. Don’t hold it against me, but my eyes started to brim. Not much, enough however that I had to use my hand to brush it aside. I remember being embarrassed. So why would a preview for Superman cause this little bit of emotion to spring out of me?
Someone might suggest, “It was a beautiful piece of art.” Well, if you saw Superman, you might disagree with the certain someone in their calling the movie a beautiful piece of art. Nonetheless, whether high art or low art, it is art nonetheless.
(As an aside, while watching the preview, I was remembering being a child, wearing underwear over my pajamas, using a discarded towel for my cape. The cape was brown though, not at all red. This recollection of my child like wonder is what brought about the emotion.)
But it brings up a certain question, a very difficult one to answer. What is art? Now I’m speaking on the subject as a layman, an observer, not an expert by any means. However, one’s perception of the concept of art is something entirely needed. This is because one’s perception of the concept of art dictates the direction of art, and its correlation of human expression.
To begin with a definition is needed. Art, in the simplest way of saying it, is something that is created which causes emotion. Whether the creation is music, words, a painting, or even a bridge, all of it is art, as it is created, and has the chance at festering emotion within the certain someone experiencing it.
The preview for Superman fit this bill quite perfectly. It’s not like anything about it was truly beautiful (at least in my definition of beauty, which may be vastly different than yours). But it helped me to remember something, and then it caused emotion. The criterion needed was met in order for it to be considered art.
There was a mentioning above of a bridge, which technically would be most definitely considered art, and more specifically practical art. There’s this bridge here, where I live in Columbia, SC. Then there’s a path you can take, which eventually leads you directly beneath the bridge. The scene is full of trees, and plants, and rocks. But there’s this rusted old metal pole, standing about fifteen feet high. And when I stand, on the path, under the bridge, and look at the pole, it reminds of some post apocalyptic scene from a story like The Road. You can’t see the traffic, and I’m usually by myself. It’s as if all that remains is this the underbelly of this bridge, and the rusted over pole, to remind me of humanity’s former greatness. Needless to say, if I’m in the right mood, the bridge evokes emotion. Maybe not tears, such as Superman, but an introspective sort of sensation, which is still emotion.
Understand that if a bridge can cause emotion, pretty much anything can. If someone ate an apple, glued the core to a shoebox painted pink, and then used newspaper clippings to spell out, “The Downfall of Capitalism”; and then if someone else was in the right mood, looking at it, emotion could be caused by this apple core shoe box. So if anything created can cause emotion, where does that leave us in distinguishing what is art, and what isn’t?
The thing is, there is no line or barrier of separation. Yes, in your mind you may feel or think there are limitations, but this isn’t true. This can be personified quite well by some of the “pieces” we now see permeating museums across the globe. Someone can defecate into a bucket; give it a title, and bam! It’s art.
You might be repulsed at the idea, or perhaps you’ve already seen the sort of thing, praising it for its originality. If you’re of the former opinion, there is truly no way for you to go about denying that it is art. The artist came up with an idea, or created it, and you were repulsed by it; emotion was caused. That which is created and causes emotion is art. You might have the opinion that the example of the bucket is cheating the system. It’s not.
Another example of an artistic creation, which people tend to view as cheating the system, is 4’33’’ by John Cage. It’s nothing, literally nothing. If you aren’t aware of what I’m talking about, go listen to it. Yet, it still fits the formula of that which makes something a piece of art. Whether you feel that Cage’s 4’33’’ is brilliant, or a poser, doesn’t matter. It is art. There is not an argument that can be made against the fact of it being so.
So is someone really an artist who walks around dropping skittles on the ground, declaring to their friends later on that they were making a, “rainbow of life”? Sadly, yes. However, the relevance of the art is dependent not on the artist, but by the viewer, the participant of the art. If you believe the person with a pocketful of skittles is the next Picasso, then by all means follow in their footsteps, though dropping M&M’s (since of course you must not be a copy cat). If you don’t think they’re worth even the discarded big toe nail clipping of Picasso, then don’t give the piece of art any credit. Don’t even mention it. Any type of dialogue involving it will promote it, as its credence will be justified in that discussion was formed because of it.
In the past, historians, if they didn’t like someone, would go about doing this. Remember, it wasn’t like a lot of people were writing. If a historian didn’t mention a particular person, who might have actually had some relevance, history would forget about them. If the person had been mentioned, even if negatively, they would be remembered. The particular person’s significance was solely dependent on being remembered, on being discussed.
With this in my mind, understand that the task at hand, for the individual experiencing the piece of art, is of the utmost importance.
The relevance of the participant involved with the artistic piece relies on the precedent that they have the power to dictate the merit or worth of the piece of art. Being a participant therefore makes the individual an immense part of whatever happens to the piece. Or in other words the impact of the piece of art is left up to the participant, not the artist. Now you might not have spent hours, even years, going about creating, but the job of the participant is just as noteworthy (even if less difficult). It is up to all of us to promote that which needs to be promoted to benefit art. It is also up to all of us to ignore that which needs to be ignored.
The next time you attend some poetry reading, an art gallery, or when you’re considering the purchasing of an album, book, or even movie ticket, think of the underlying issue of what it is that you are promoting. For what you promote is who you are. And who you are is what you should really be thinking about.
-Jared John Buchholz