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who defines what’s art? January 23, 2007

Posted by rj juarez in commissions.

i was supposed to title this, “who the hell defines art?”.

who really does?  i have posted this in several forums and again it confused me.  people will tend to answer what sounds intelligent and what sounds right.  answers like “art is in the eye of the beholder”, “art can not be defined in words” or “art is a very subjective topic for people” can sound a very good definition for less conflicts with everyone.  its the universal choice the fits the billing of everyone.  i was hoping that it was the definition accepted by our divisive societies.  but no one buys art from someone just good with no name.  its reality.

in reality, everyone seems to have his own view of art and not a universal definition as above statements suggests.  this individuality in opinion is often reflected in the pecking order of the art scene and people on top of the pecking order has a lot of weight in what they say.

who are these people who defines art?

1.  art critics for example says what’s great and what’s not (ofcourse opinions are often coated with money). 

2.  experienced/old artists (not elevated to the status of greatness) will kill off every definition and will challenge the new waves of artists!  ofcourse for their own good.

3.  the art collectors, often people with high influence in society will also affect the definition greatly.  using common sense, they will shift the definition of art to those made way before by an already dead artist and despise the new exciting artforms created by the new ones they don’t control.

4.  societal expectations i guess is more of a factor than the aesthetics of art.  even if the artwork looks great, if it has been labeled “made in china” and has been produced massively it wouldn’t be an artform in most societies.  people for example has a blind belief that art is solely appreciated on aesthetics.  and why do an aesthetically mass produced piece not an art?  i guess its still an art if its something new to the senses however not “artistically valued” by a market.

5.  so market defines art now.  this is such a hard pill to chew.  upon talking to art experts, critics, mainstays and indifferents i saw that the artworld acts in the same way like market forces.  as an artist, it is a hard pill to chew.  artists will always talk about the experience, the innovation, the technique, the emotional drama that influence the process and so on to an art buyer (or to me for some instance when they dont know me yet).  but most (if not all) the popular ones, when talking among colleagues talk of cost, marketing, advertising, presence, material substitutes, art gallery positioning, brand image among other things.

as a young kid, i was amazed and was even shocked.  the really good artists who doesn’t know the marketing stuff above will surely die unrecognized in isolation.  it is such a dog eat dog industry forcing the most favorable definition to the person above the pecking order.  its more of critiquing other works than appreciating.

and so i guess the proper billing of the proposed titile is right, who the “hell” defines art!?



1. robin rivera - February 22, 2007

This reply was originally posted in http://www.digitalphotographer.com.ph/forum/showthread.php?p=100449#post100449

I saw your blog, and read the entry entitled “who the hell defines art”. Your question is related to the question in this tread as to what art it. This is something we take up in my Art Studies classes in UP.

A “canon” usually refers to either a body of works that are considered art, or a system of standards that identifies what works qualify as art. These may be written or unwritten. All the entities you mentioned in the blog entry try to create their own canons, and in many cases lobby for its acceptance by others.You could even add entities like the government, the church, the educational system, and a host of others to your list. I sense that you are frustrated because your works have not yet been “canonized” (sounds like sainthood) by one of these groups.

There are some interesting characteristics of canons that might interest people like you who feel like they are being deliberately excluded. First off, canons are dynamic. No matter how much people try to hold on to traditions, change happens. So what may be considered trash today may suddenly become fashionable tomorrow. For example, history reminds us that it took almost a generation before photography was “accepted” as a visual art form. This is partly because the predominant visual artists at the time, painters and illustrators, felt economically threatened by what they perceived as nothing more than a new technological novelty. But photography eventually took hold, thanks to the pioneering efforts of both conservative and radical photographers, and the visual arts community had to give in. So, people, tastes, fashions, and canons change.

Second, canons are not always based on form. I always tell my students that art does not exist in a vacuum. It has to interact with all the other forces in society and culture. For example, whether we like it or not, one can be called an “artist” for no other reason than hanging out and being “in” with the right people. Others manage be called artists from having figured out a successful marketing strategy. Still others get to be called artists because they died under controversial, mysterious or tragic circumstances. On the other hand, some become revered as artists not necessarily of technical, but conceptual and theoretical contributions. Andy Warhol’s Campbells Soup image may have, by itself, not been unusually well crafted. But the whole concept and context of “pop” art that he championed shook the art community to its core. That Warhol lived to see his concept not only take root, but evolve further than his original concept is a testament to the value of his contribution.

Many people have the impression of art as emanating and/or residing only in the individual artist or viewer. But we must remember that art also has a social dimension. I’m not saying artists are hostages to society. But the better we know the political, economic, spiritual, and whatever other aspects of a society and culture, the better we can negotiate our way through the terrain that is called art.

2. accumosaic - February 25, 2007

thank you for that extensive reply. i guess i owe you a coffee for that. it is such an enlightening and non-divisive explanation by an art guru!

3. Justine Patton - May 28, 2010

Really great post. Honestly.

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