Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Yeah, Cool, ...But is it Art?

Today, I want to talk about art.

It seems that, lately, there’s been a lot of discussion (in the circles that I circle in, anyway) about what art is. We haven’t really been saying, “What is art”, but we have been talking about trends in LDS film, and the nature of free speech. All of which is leading me to ask, “What is art?”

And that leads me to another question, which is, “What’s the difference between bad art and great art?”

I touched on this a while back, when I reviewed Doug Erekson’s “Backporch Believer”. But I’d like to go into a bit more depth.

I grew up with a couple of artists. Mom is a visual artist. A painter, and erstwhile sculptor, specifically. She mostly does watercolors. Amazingly skilled in both execution and expression. Wow. She got a Masters in Fine Art when I was just a tiny kid, and just kept doing it, year after year, better and better. She also played in orchestras.

My Dad’s strongest artistic endeavor is probably his photography. He’s done a few shows, but mostly just takes great pictures when he travels. He also sings, mostly in choirs, but some solo, and plays piano. He also is a great appreciator of classical and orchestral music as well as the art that mom and her colleagues make.

So, I learned a lot about the arts as a kid. I grew up around it. We saw concerts, we saw plays. We went to galleries. I played ‘cello in school orchestras and the youth symphony.

Still, I think I define art in different terms than they do.

Art is a very difficult thing to define, when you think about it. One man’s scribble is another man’s art. Dad and I, for example, used to go rounds over and over about whether or not rock was actually music. Good thing he never heard any rap, eh?

So, my definition of art is: “Something original that someone consciously does to express their ideas or beliefs.”

I admit that this definition is very broad, and includes a lot of things that others wouldn’t include. I’m OK with that. See, I can allow something to BE art, without actually having to LIKE it personally. Too often, I've encountered people who define art by what they personally like, then justify that with arguments of technical advancement, or respectability, or even shock value.

And I follow that to a certain extent. What makes art great, is that it impacts me. If something makes me think something new, feel something new, or just makes me consider something in a new way, then it elevates from the world of simple art to great art.

That becomes very personal. Great art is then, by definition, in the “eye of the beholder”. What impacts me will not impact someone else. Or, it might impact me and someone else in different ways.

The problem I’ve been seeing in a lot of these discussions of late, and ultimately, in the discussions that I’ve had over many, many years is that too many people think that once they’ve defined “Great Art” in their own minds, they think that gives them the right to impose that definition on others. I’ve seen that as those in the avant garde try to force their way into traditional venues, and I’ve seen traditionalists reject the new and untried. Both are interpreting art from their own perspectives, and trying to force that perspective onto others.

The biggest example in I’ve seen recent years is going on in the debate in LDS film. Those that made edgy, challenging movies proclaim that the Mormon masses are uneducated philistines that wouldn’t know great art if it was hung around their necks.

Those that make simple love stories and comedies complain that the others are elitists that don’t understand a clear, minimal message.

In my mind, I’ve seen greatness and lameness in both camps. And the difference is NOT in technical excellence, but rather, how *I* feel when I’m done with the experience. Did it leave me thinking? Feeling? If so, it was art. If not, then, “…meh…” to it.

What will become the “Great Works” of Mormon Art? Time will determine, and debate and argument won’t.

But, honestly, that won’t stop the debate and argument…

Mark Hansen

1 comment:

  1. We can thrust our fist to the heavens all we want and scourge the feeble minded masses for rejecting our art, or walk up to the podium and graciously accept our recognition for the best piece of art in our generation. But you hit the nail on the head when you wrote that art is subjective to those who view it.

    The elitist artist is, in reality, the ego. We all want validation for our great masterpiece. We ALL want recognition. "Look at me Monty! Pick me Monty!"

    In the long run I think the better question would be, "*Why* do I create?" When we are honest with ourselves, we will find the answer and also *whose* validations is it that we seek. Those answers will help us understand why or if the validation of the masses even matter.



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