Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Defining Art

I'm finishing up the Definition Argument paper at NKU. As the name implies, you argue for a specific definition of a term, e.g. "A real dog has to be big enough to scare away a burglar"; "A true sport involves an intense physical challenge so golf is not a sport"; "A family is any group of people who care about each other."

One student is writing about art which is a tricky subject. Thinking about her position, it occurred to me that in non-prose literature, we have an all-encompassing word--"verse"--which is made up of work with merit--"poetry"--and work without--"doggerel."

If I were to start my own language, I would do the same for art. I'm not sure what I'd call each term but a wider vocabulary might help the expression of our thoughts.

I've been thinking about this since I read about this on Innisfree. I wouldn't send the kid to the bughouse but I'm not against banning certain subjects in class. In English 101, I don't let students write about abortion, gun control, or the death penalty because they do such a bad job and never have anything new to say about any of it. After reading submissions for the defunct Evil Dog Magazine, I'd say the same about shock value. For every Nathan Singer, there's 100,000 illiterates who slap together a few paragraphs about raping the pope and cutting the babies out of pregnant women and mistake their grandmother's shock for talent.

Hey, I'm all for stories about blasphemy and senseless violence but just slapping raw ideas on paper doesn't make them stories. I remember a story about a dog-rapist. Attention-grabber? Yes. Well-written? Oh God no.

In the end, I have no real definition myself and have deliberately wasted your time, but here's a few quotes by people more knowledgeable than myself:

“How do I define a work of art? It is not an asset in the stock-exchange sense, but a man’s timid attempt to repeat the miracle that the simplest peasant girl is capable of at any time, that of magically producing life out of nothing,” Oskar Kokoschka

“We all know that a good person can be a bad artist. But no one will ever be a genuine artist unless he is a great human being and thus also a good one,” Marc Chagall

“In general, then, color is a means to exert a direct influence on the soul. Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with many strings,” Wassily Kandinsky

“Art is artificial and not at all natural. Creating a work of art does not mean that one is imitating nature but rather that one is on an equal footing with it and has even surpassed it using means that, of all living beings, are only available to man,” Victor Vasarely

“All of painting, but also literature and all that goes with it, is merely a process of going round and round something inexpressible, round a black hole or a crater whose center one cannot penetrate. And those things one seizes on as subject matter, they have merely the character of pebbles at the foot of the crater—they mark out a circle which, one hopes, draws ever close to the center,” Anselm Kiefer

“I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum,” Claes Oldenburg

“Art is a duet between the artist and his medium. Each must speak freely and directly and visible in his own language. One must allow all the fortunes proper to the material to emerge. . . To try to prevent these vagaries of fortune would be to deprive the world of all vitality,” Jean Dubuffet

“To the creative artist, in the making of art it is doubtful whether aesthetics have any value to him. The truly creative artist deals with vulgarity,” David Smith

“Since Duchamp, the artist is the author of a definition,” Marcel Broodthaers

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