Friday, January 13, 2012
Just Hang It in a Gallery
Although I believed I had resolved the problem in my mind several years ago, my students have recently resurrected a philosophical dilemma for me, which has more to do with art than philosophy – I think.
When I was in college, I studied Art History considerably, and being able to differentiate Baroque from Rococo art or Medieval Byzantine paintings from Renaissance works gave me a sense of self-satisfaction.
Over the years, my interest in and knowledge of art has grown, and for the last six or seven years, I have been teaching aspects of art at the university level. However, more so than ever, I hear students utter, “Art is anything you want it to be.” My first inclination is to conclude they simply have no clue. I am not so sure.
To me, art possesses elements such as line, shape, space, texture, form, and value. These characteristics traditionally form some of the basic requirements necessary to differentiate real art from everything else. Yet, in the 20th century, alternate theories arose. For example, French artist, Marcel Duchamp, who was influential in Surrealist and Dadaist movements declared a urinal a work of art and promptly named it Fountain.
Duchamp challenged conventional thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much by writing, but through subversive actions such as dubbing a urinal a work of art. Other artists placed ordinary objects in galleries to prove that the context rather than content of an art piece determines its validity as art.
It appears to me that declaring something to be art might be a 21st century mindset advanced by people unable to acquire the requisite skills to be recognized as legitimate artists. In our feel-good society, it is nice to believe we are all equally talented, but we are not. I might not be able to draw as well as Duchamp, but when it comes to urinals, I'm as good as the next guy.
Comparing my use of urinals with that of Duchamp, I am convinced that we have different aims, but they belong in the same facility.