Imagine a conflation of Magritte’s famous “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” with Duchamp’s notorious “L.H.O.O.Q.” such that beneath the image of the Mona Lisa the caption reads “This is not a work of Art”.
When I meet a “creative type” I find it interesting to discover how they self-identify. By my experience, typically, the most talented will say, “I am a painter, I am a sculptor, I am a stone carver, I am a ceramicist, I am an engraver, I am an animator, I am a photographer” or “I make lithographs, I play the violin, I write poetry” etc. They tend to self-identify by craft.
But when I hear someone say, “I am an artist,” I confess that I tend to be reflexively skeptical and think to myself, “I’ll be the judge of that!” To self-identify as an “artist” almost invariably connotes at least the implication of an incredulous claim like “I am a prophet” or a “clairvoyant.”
Why do we care so much about the answer to this question, “What is Art?” Why does it matter? Why have people so vociferously contended over its parameters? Why do both the wise and the foolish pay millions of dollars to appropriate the auspices of objects so sanctified by the term? What is the source of the power intrinsic in this three letter word?
Since before Abraham marched out of the city of Ur in disgust, and even after his revelation of a personal unmediated deity, the “image” has almost invariably been perceived as the “icon” or in someway the incarnation of a supernatural manifestation. The image maker was then, by implication, the oracle or a vehicle through which metaphysical reality was revealed.
Despite millennia of mutually exclusive claims by religious, secular, political, commercial and philosophical propagandists, the stakes remain almost inexplicably high when it comes to who controls the auspices of the word “Art.” It seems to make little difference whether one claims to be a materialist or a metaphysician, an alleged art connoisseur or a neophyte, the very invocation of the term “Art” itself incites more unverifiable opinionated vitriol than perhaps any word besides “God”.
How we perceive the word and what gravity we attribute to it is almost universally believed to be of Platonic significance. Regardless of whether those contending over its definition personally acquiesce to being Platonists or not, actions speak louder than words, even when those actions are themselves rhetorical.
Perhaps people are so inclined to place such importance on the rhetorical signifier because how we define the term “Art” is indicative of how we view ourselves and establish our personal significance in a chaotic cosmos.-Joseph Bravo