Friday, September 08, 2006

What Makes Someone "Not an Artist"?

I've wondered for many years just what defines an "artist" and what makes someone "not an artist." We have degrees and exams to define doctors or lawyers or scientists and such, but even armed with an MFA, a graduate seemingly still needs to pass some unspoken test to earn the title "artist" for most people. And of course, there's no requirement that one has an art degree to earn the title if the evidence (their art) is convincing enough. We would never, however, let a self-taught "surgeon" demonstrate their right to that title (at least, not on us) or a self-declared "lawyer" try an important case for us, no matter how many episodes of "Law & Order" they convinced us were decided incorrectly. As a society, we have measures of competence for such professions we expect to be met.

Now clearly what hangs in the balance if an incompetent artist paints our portrait (or whatever) is nowhere near as consequential as what hangs in the balance when lawyers or doctors get to work, but given how much artwork and the institutions that support and protect it cost, you would think that as a society we'd have some clearer definition of who it is making such treasures. (Stay with me here, this isn't as inane an argument as it might seem at this point.)

Two things bring this up. First is the NYTimes article excerpting highlights from Michael Kimmelman's ongoing blog posts on the US Open (wonderfully and oddly, they also ran these greatest hits from a work in progress in the print version of the paper, adding a dizzying spin on the whole digitial vs. print issue, their relative importance, and the laws of time and space...but I digress). As Michael noted, many artists (and dealers) are obsessed with tennis, but he offers a better rationale than that for running this article in the Arts section of the paper:
Interviewed on court after beating Mara Santangelo, Amélie Mauresmo is asked about being No. 1 and winning Grand Slam events: Which was better? One derived from the other, she said, treating a silly question politely. Then she spoke about the feeling of winning slams. Everything you do as a tennis player, she said, was to have those brief feelings. She didn’t mention titles or money or posterity. She talked about fleeting emotion. She sounded like an artist.

Artists try to do or make something exceptional in life to produce out-of-the-ordinary reactions, in themselves and in other people. This is a basic definition of art. We seek it out, at the movies or in a museum or at a concert hall, to escape from our routines and be moved in ways that might refresh and enlighten us when we return to normalcy.

After all, what is beauty except the opposite of mundane? That’s not all it is, of course. But its exceptional status engenders feelings like those Mauresmo describes as her true goal. It’s also what sports fans desire: to be stirred, if only fleetingly, by an experience above and beyond the norm, which is as rare in sports as it is in art.
Michael didn't write Mauresmo "is an artist," but he makes a rather compelling argument that what she does on the court is as much art as it is sport. And in that idea lies my confusion. If what someone does is "art," why are they not then an "artist"? [Update: See also Tyler on MK's sportswriting gig.]

The other thing that brings this up is a wonderful conversation I had with a young conductor at a party last weekend. OK, so I thought it was wonderful, but I suspect he was a bit frustrated with my refusal to accept his distinction between an "artist" and "not an artist" and just move on. I kept bringing up examples of other creative professions (dancers, musicians, actors, and even conductors) that he would argue were "not artists" because they didn't invent what they performed. He drew the line, if you will, in defining an "artist" at someone who creates something from nothing, repeatedly coming back to the metaphor of the "starting with the blank page." I cited the example of Baryshnikov. "Surely, you have to agree that he's an 'Artist'?" No, he said, he's a virtuoso. And round and round we went.

Eventually I asked about the actor who, despite what the screenwriter wrote or the instructions the director gave, goes off, on their own, and through hours and hours of trial and error, comes up with a gesture or quirk or a particular delivery that is totally their own. He dismissed that as "interpretation." What if it's more than a single guesture, what if it's an entire new character, I asked (I didn't think of it at the time, but the example of how Johnny Depp breathed incredible life into his Captain Jack Sparrow role, almost in spite of the direction and writing he had to begin with is a good example). Surely, that is an example of the actor as "artist." After all, no one else created those decisions for them. At this point, I think the conductor was looking for an escape (which he took quickly when two friends came in) because he conceded half-heartedly that perhaps method actors were "artists."

My reason for torturing the poor guy, of course, was I see conductors as "artists" and couldn't understand why he wouldn't accept that title (after all, it's a compliment in my opinion). His reason for resisting, of course, was that his working definition was a personal choice, and he couldn't understand why I wouldn't just accept that.

But I do still wonder: what makes someone "not an artist" even though what they're putting out there for us to see is arguably "art"? Is "interpretation" a good delineation? Is starting from a "blank page" a requirement? Is it a matter of defining a difference between "performing" and "creating"? Is it a personal choice, or should a society have a good working definition? We hate to limit and define it too much because "art" needs room and air and we like to be surprised, but why I care, I guess, is if anyone can declare that they're an "not an artist" can anyone then declare that they are, and what are the ramifications of that?


Anonymous twhid said...

You will probably find this a cop-out, but every person has the human right to define themselves.

So, yes, every person has the right to declare themselves 'not an artist' and every person has a right to declare themselves an artist.

We then judge their output. They can be a very creative (or virtuostic or interesting) non-artist or a very bad artist depending on what they create.

To me, 'artist' isn't a qualatative label.

Your other point, that there are no tests or exams or institutional whatever to bestow a title is incorrect IMHO. You yourself must administer some sort of test (judging based on some sort of criteria) when determining whether or not to show an artist's work. The collective decisions of curators, collectors, gallery directors and critics create the art institution which bestows not the title 'artist' but the title 'good artist.'

9/08/2006 09:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

I've been around quite a few contemporary artists who'd say anyone doing something that is primarily decorative isn't an artist. And I've been around quite a few traditional artists who would say anyone who doesn't display mastery of tecnique isn't a true artist.

I am of the opinion that the only sane approach is to accept anyone as an artist who claims to be. As soon as we start drawing lines between who can be an artist & who can't, we're buying into a way of thinking which may end up having ourselves disenfranchised as artists.

Contemporary artists, with our Duchampian heritage, have an easier time accepting that art can be anything that is presented as such, therefore any who presents something as art is an artist. More traditional artists often argue that if everyone is an artist, then no one is--though that ignores the fact that not everyone is claiming to be an artist.

The more interesting question--and one that I think is what you're really asking--is what makes someone an artist who isn't claiming to be an artist (such as a tennis player). Is a piece of outsider art that was created by someone without any artistic intent still art? If so, then is a bee-hive or stactite or other natural wonder art?

9/08/2006 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Bnon said...

I don't have much problem with this dilemma. The traditional definitions will do: artists create art by painting, sculpting, making videos, etc., from scratch. The general term "artist" is simply an honorific bestowed on people who produce Kimmelman's "out-of-the-ordinary reactions" in their audience. The person in question could be a chef, a jeweler, a linebacker, etc.

So if the matter is cut and dried for me, I have a guess at what you, Edward, are getting at. I think you're proposing some kind of utopian definition of art, an extension, perhaps of the democratizing and somewhat Duchampian (and Warholian) idea that anyone can be an artist and that art is anything made by an artist. It would be kind of a lovely world, the opposite of one hemmed in by bar exams, board certifications, and professional certifications. In this world, it wouldn't matter what you created, in what medium, or how you did it. Traditional distinctions would be discarded. As long as the thing worked to move the people experiencing it, it would be called art.

9/08/2006 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I believe I have heard it has something to do with not being able to draw a straight line . . .

9/08/2006 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

This post points out the importance of language. Throw away the word "art" and the discussion disappears (temporarily), but the pictures, and our feelings about them, remain.

9/08/2006 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The traditional definitions will do: artists create art by painting, sculpting, making videos, etc., from scratch.

What about a choreographer? Artist or not an artist? Is a dance made from scratch?

Of course this also brings up the very intriguing issue Cedric raised in the thread on Belief:

There is also this big idea of life being like a video game in which you unfold every possibilities as you go on. It remains to question wrether you are author of the game because you have unfolded some new possibilities within it. So then all works of possible art (thanks Leibniz) would be already set up for humans to discover.

If that's true, then how is the "from scratch" criteria valid?

9/08/2006 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous bnon said...

The "from scratch" criterion is still valid for me because I don't quite buy, as much as I'd like to, that every choice and action is an aesthetic one, which results in good or bad art, which is what I think the drift of your argument is. I'm feeling hard-headed this morning, so the simple definitions still seem better. Even so, many of my decisions are based more on aesthetics than logic or common sense. And, even so, I wouldn't want you to judge my life as you would a work of art. Hey, is it starting to seem kind of French around here?

9/08/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Dilettante Ventures said...

EW -

You're needing something like two categories - artist as profession and artist as passionate we've mentioned before, the "not art" terrain is dear to us - see a recent post delving into this here.

A really interesting discussion of the idea of chef as artist takes place in the book Culinary Artistry. Various chefs explain their rationale for accepting or rejecting the notion. Well worth the read to get an "outside" perspective on the idea...

9/08/2006 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous J.T. Kirkland said...

A person is an artist if they say they are an artist. Who are we to judge that? There are plenty of other criteria that filter the "good" from the "bad" so really in the end it doesn't matter. It's mearly a label with no importance.

I can say I'm a lawyer but no one would ever hire me. I can say I'm a doctor and no one would let me cut them open.

What matters in the end is what is produced. If Jackson Pollock, for example, thought himself to be "not an artist" it doesn't impact how I view his work and the joy it brings me.

9/08/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

The question here begs the question, "What is Art?"

9/08/2006 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I'm not an artist. Because I say I'm not.

9/08/2006 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

"A real work of art can only arise in the soul of an artist occasionally, as the fruit of the life he has lived, just as a child is conceived by its mother. But counterfeit art is produced by artisans and handcraftsmen continually, if only consumers can be found." -Tolstoy

There are plenty of people who call themselves artists, and many might even possess a "terminal degree", but they do not live an artist's life, seeing the world through artist's eyes, or make work from the gut because they HAVE to.

On the other hand, I believe there are a handful of people in almost every discipline (artmaking included) who transcend their "craft" and create art... pushing the boundaries of the medium, obviously working on a totally different level, accessing channels that others aren't even reaching for. I remember reading an interview with Jean Paul Gaultier where he declared he was not an artist, but a designer, and I totally disagreed with his self-assessment.

Perhaps your conversation with the conductor happened because he knows how much he works to preserve the vision of someone else's creation while he conducts? Particularly if he dreams of composing... that chasm might be a sore spot.

9/08/2006 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger William Knipscher said...

The idea of making artwork from "scratch" doesn't make sense to me. Nothing is made from scratch. Someone must make the canvas to paint on, the paper to draw on. Art is an accumulation of experiences and influences, so lets not pretend we live in vacuums.

9/08/2006 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Why not just call anyone an artist who chooses to live their life in a creative manor. This includes the way you get out of bed in the morning, the inventive ways you cook and dress and how you live you life in general.

9/08/2006 12:01:00 PM  
Anonymous bnon said...


What is the point of declaring everyone an artist? Is it a way of avoiding passing judgement on anything at all? Is it democtratic? Does "creative" really equal "art"?

William K,

"From scratch" simply means a blank canvas, empty staff paper, a block of wood, an unrecorded videotape. Of course, everyone and everything exists in context. But artists make something that wasn't there before. I think there's nothing shameful atbout the category of "interpretive artist." What's wrong with being a conductor, a movie director, an actor, etc., that can be remedied by promoting them to "artists"?


9/08/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...


It's really complicating topic, I can go on and on :P

Let people call themself whatever they want

9/08/2006 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Is it democtratic? Does "creative" really equal "art"?

Yes. I see it often, people living their art. Can't hang it on a wall, that would be painful. The ART word has evolved to mean many things and that's ok. Look at it in a possitive way. The more people relate to the ART word the more likely they will get involved, go to shows, buy art! I like that part.

9/08/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

The semantic issue suggests a deeper social problem with the idea of these people who make or do these special things that we seem to find something deeper in than is ordinary.

We call them artists because it's convenient. But for me, all we who paint, sculpt, dance, film and edit video, sing, write -- we're just people making or doing things. The word art and its accompanying baggage has become thoroughly misleading. It's a lot like the word God: say it in a room filled with 20 people and you will evoke 20 different responses. Some will agree superficially but will at a deeper level be quite different.

I'd like to dispense with the word art entirely, but to function socially I need to keep it close by.

9/08/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

If you want to experience another definition of "artist", you know, just for fun, go into a bank and apply for a loan. For profession, fill in "artist".

9/08/2006 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous anne said...

The conductor's argument is problematic in the extreme because it's predicated on his faith in a 'blank slate.' That's an illusion if there ever was one - and like all captivating illusions it gives the mind a pretty if unrealistic place to rest and tether a definition. But anything created must come from what has come before...materials, content, culture...we don't work in a vacuum. Bear with me -- artists make what could not have been made if we hadn't made it, but we can only make what we do because of what has existed before. Of course this can lead to metaphysical discussions on the ultimate act(s) of creation in the universal sense, where the only possibility of a blank slate exists if indeed there is one.

9/08/2006 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

Doesn't this discussion bring us back to the discussion of curator as artist???

9/08/2006 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Christine Davidson said...

An artist is someone who enters into the task of making art with an intention to do just that. Art is a creation emergent from an artists intention combine with whatever media comprises its existence. I declare this elegant hypothesis a work of art based on my intention for it to be thus combined with all the ASCII computed to form the pixels that draw the shapes of the letters that transports these thoughts from me to you through a complex and beautiful system of phonemes called language. I invite readers to offer any reasonable argument for why my definition is not sound and or art?

9/08/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

A person is not an artist when they spend more time philosophizing than art-making. Art equals butt in studio.

9/08/2006 06:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

David, I got bad news for you:

You ARE an artist if the people say so.

We had this discussion before haven't we? Many times.

I will repeat myself:

1) Duchamps said everything can be art (potentially)

2) Beuys said everyone is an artist (potentially)

Actually had Beuys been next to Edward through that conversation he'd probably be claiming weird notions about every thoughts and actions from any individuals as striving towards the social sculpture. Sounds pulled by the hairs but the big idea is that in the end art is merely consensus.
It's a social psychological state.

Yes indeed it is. Tomorrow we could all turn into zombies and
either perceive a Mark Di Suvero as an obstacle or a tool.

Therefore I already gave the example of the inuit chants that are now considered art when originally it wasn't. They are cases like that when non-art is re-appropriated as art and ifthe consensus is strong in that direction than I'm afraid the various objects that David create as non-art might be considered art. Of course a good curator will mention how genuinely the original author didn't perceive his creation as art. Those details are always culturally interesting.

But the same goes for artists.
Ultimately anyone who insists to be artist is an artist and INTERPRETION TOO IS AN ART (come on..even painters like Rubens INTERPRETED famous scenes).
But only consensus will decide who belongs in the "greater high art" field.

To come back to the important paradox brought up by Ethan,
it has been a strong debate in recent contemporary art circles wrether pure technical genius should be allowed entry again into the (elite-conceived) high ends of art (like it was, for example, in ancient japanese or chinese cultures where technical mastery was the unique criteria to nominate a great artists as all subjects depicted were common and defined by tradition).

More and more gallerists these days are showing works by artists with strong technical talent while forgiving that they're not exactly the wild original animals as a (god bless him) Jason Rhoades.

In between art and non-art there is a great category that takes up a lot of stuff that we call "bad art". When you look at a pretty boring illustrative painting, what would be the fine line between it being bad art or non-art? At some points details about intention and
a minimal consensus become essential, you can't just always trust jo-blo. Make up your own mind.

And if the proposition here is to debate the criterias that make great art, well ... great art only occurs by juxtaposition with bad art. There's no way around it, ain't it? Or could art ever only be always great?

Or is art, philosophically speaking, always great??


Cedric Caspesyan

PS: lol at Henry. Yes I should be back in studio, dammit.

9/08/2006 06:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Lol, I think that would've been a great Casualist motto:

"Hey dude, Art is ALWAYS great !!!


9/08/2006 06:28:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

David, I got bad news for you:
You ARE an artist if the people say so.

Cedric, that doesn't mean I have to agree with them. Besides, I might change my mind tomorrow :)

9/08/2006 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger onesock said...

David's suggestion that we try to get a bank loan as an "artist" remninds me of an experience years ago when I and other fellow artists were booted out of our studio building because of eminent domain. The DOT offered to pay reparations if we could prove that we were in fact "artists" and not "hobbyists". I was deemed the latter because I did not receive a certain percentage of income thru the sale of my art, even tho I went to school for art, received grants, had shows, all that. The lady in the space next to me was deemed "artist" because she could sell the living daylights out of those pretty little flower paintings and landscapes to all her rich friends.

Another time I was told that I was not an artist because I was not represented by a gallery. Kinda like a writer must have a publisher to be one and a chef must have a restaurant i guess.

Its all silliness to me.

9/08/2006 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

All, i have to say about this is that I am a fragile person and when I started asking myself that question, I stopped being able to work.

I am not saying that artist's should not ask it, but after some beer and a lot of butt in the studio.
Edward, I am afraid that you would not have worked out as a Casualist.

9/08/2006 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Edward, I am afraid that you would not have worked out as a Casualist.

We all know that he's a Fundaminimalist at heart :)

9/08/2006 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Art equals butt in studio


Art = Ass in Studio.

It's more urgent. As it should be.

We all know that he's a Fundaminimalist at heart :)

I plead the Fifth. ;-)

9/08/2006 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Henrys' got it.

9/08/2006 11:35:00 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Sheesh. An artist is someone who makes artwork.


9/09/2006 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

And here...

"Art is anything you can get away with." Marshall McLuhan (The Medium is the Massage)

"The artist is always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present." Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media)

9/09/2006 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

"Art" exists ONLY as a product of culture.

Nothing is inherently art. Art is only art when the culture uses it as art.

Art is that thing created by an "artist". If you define art as that thing declared to be art by an artist, you need to define who is an artist.

The identity of "artist" is determined by the culture. The culture gives the title "artist" to whomever can provide the most compelling "art". Both manipulate each other. The culture finds certain artwork compelling, thus confirming it as art and the creator as an artist. The artist presents work to the culture, attempting to influence the direction of the consensus on what is art.

What is art? How does it function? The artist sets aside an object or situation as art, for the consideration of the culture. The artist removes that object from the world of utilitarian objects, to be considered under the special circumstance of "art". The culture is expected to interact with that object in a way unique to its status as art. Art is an act of faith, as there is no physical, demonstrable way of proving that this or that object is art.

Is there any medium specific to art?
No, any medium can be art, and no medium is guaranteed to produce art. The mastery of various skills unique to a given medium is the mastery of craft, not art.

9/09/2006 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous priit said...

Artist today = a young man of questionable manners, usually a graduate of art school, who likes to insult people but is too coward to do it to their face so uses the label "artist" to get away with it.

9/09/2006 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

The question was, "What makes someone NOT an artist."

You people are so self-absorbed . . .

; )

9/09/2006 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I like candy, cause she's a casualist.

Hope Thursday went well from a Sothebychristiean, standpoint.

9/09/2006 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

I don't know, I'm only a painter.

9/09/2006 07:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>>"What makes someone NOT an artist."

Oblivion, Ignorance, Bypass, a missed opportunity, etc...

It's like asking why Duchamps didn't pick a fork instead of a shovel.

One of my pleasure in life is looking at objects that I believe have great chances to never become art because they were neither conceived as art by their maker nor have potential to be recognized as such by an audience.
Objects with poor power to attract cognition.

Sort of doing the opposite of scrutinizing the mundane for potential artistic effects, I am interested in the overlooked items.

Is it possible to derive from cognitive desire, and force yourself to glance, each time you are looking at an object, at the events happening 45 degrees from it, at 3 meters of distance?

That non-artistic piece of dust on the floor next to Duchamps's Fountain fascinates me as much as dark energy, because it really permits the Fountain to "become", cognitively.

And that aspect fascinates me because it is exactly what art will never be able to grasp.

If I encircle the dust and turn it into art, then I killed the effect I was looking for. What is next to the dust that helps me turn the dust into art?

What makes someone not an artist is simply the OTHER ARTIST. Art is a ying and yang affair (like everything else).

There is always a percentage of art that is not directly recognized by the audience at the time it was created (sometimes because the artist is hidden), and there is always unused creative potential in the collectiv conscious that constantly juggles with what is actually working.

95 per cent of people would refute
that art can exist beyond realization, or product (ass in studio), but I'm interested by the ontological problem of the existence of art on the level of ideas. Is it still art if I'm just imagining it?

Happy non-anniversary everyone !

Cedric Caspesyan

9/09/2006 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger onesock said...

I am conceptually linking this topic with the one on Mark Boyd's Theory Now blog in asking this question...

What about the fact that it is the discursive activity and support structure surrounding an artist and the work which defines it? No matter how many times an artist's "ass is in studio" if no one is looking ,talking, writing about the work is it work? Does an artist need institutional verification in order to be called as such?

9/09/2006 10:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Someone mentioned to me that I keep writting Duchamps when the name is actually Duchamp. I have no idea why I add this S, but it's not the first time I'm told wrong and I keep coming back to this stupid mistake.

Sorry about that, I should just call him Marchand Dusel.

Cedric ;-)

9/10/2006 03:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Someone is an artist if they make art. There are many activities that have an artistic component: the styling of hair, the selection of wallpaper, psychotherapy. The results are not art.

Tennis players are really not artists. Good players win according to the rules. Whether they do so creatively or like machines doesn't matter. They can play beautifully, and we can admire their style. Not everything we admire visually is art.

Unless it is used as such, "art" is not an honorific, and we ought to enjoy things according to the categories we classify them into without gussying them up as "art" needlessly. Ditto for their makers. I recommend a related essay called Craft and Art Envy by Walter Darby Bannard.

9/10/2006 08:18:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Tennis players are really not artists.

Cedrics, I think Franklins is backing me up here. I don't play tennis, but I play volleyball. So if tennis players can claim non-artist status, it's only fair that volleyball players can too. I'm not sure about chess players, though.

9/10/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Nancy Baker, aka Rebel Belle said...

This is a trick question, kind of like what is behind door number three.

The real question is this, are you part of the elite system or not?

9/10/2006 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The real question is this, are you part of the elite system or not?

Please elaborate...not sure I follow.

9/10/2006 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Soraya Marcano said...

Henry's comment "A person is not an artist when they spend more time philosophizing than art-making" is amusing.

Dialectic, linguistic or deconstruction of the artist... how passionate and boring.

9/10/2006 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I think Nancys simply means that however some would want to be considered
"artists", it won't be that way until the Artworld with capital A
recognize them. Onesock gave an excellent example about that issue.

What makes an Hellos Kittys plush not considered a work of art?

A) its maker never intended the object to
be filled with any artistic ambitions.

B) the object has a function (titillating the kids)

C) The art elite doesn't consider the object
as presenting aesthetic or conceptual
merits enough to equal the objects
that are deemed as art (Hellos Kittys'
drawn lines would be afflicted by a certain
over-simplicity and its purpose too commercial)

D) it is way too common and accessible an object
when art is preferably released in extremely limited
editions (minus 10 copies).

E) all of the above

I bet that if Picassos had drawn Hellos Kittys
or a very similar form on a restaurant napkin
it would be considered a work of art.

One of the biggest problem inherent within visual arts
is the prevalenced of the signature. Anything stupid thing
made by an artist is automatically filled with high
value because artists are "signing" them. They are countless
artists who, realizing that, played with this issue, and these works
are still exhibited in museums (please note that I consider
Fountain a little apart from this phenomenon, not counting that it
wasn't signed Duchampssss).

Borrowing from Giacomettis's philosophy, if I had to chose
one day between parting with my Hellos Kittys plush or a dot
of ink paper artwork by Friedmans, I would choose the Hellos Kittys anytime.
I am not saying that the idea of the dot of ink is bad in itself,
but I can replicate myself any day, and to me the signature
of Friedmans exaggerate the aesthetic and INTELLECTUAL value of this
work (by the way Fiona Banners also did a dot of graphite on paper but her's
was gigantic...something about ego, I guess)

There's a point when signature becomes too who's who's.
And sometimes I feel the art elite is more interested in
tagging who's part of the artworld and who's not instead
of really looking at what's interesting out there.

It's like expecting to find art in Artforum but all you see
is those ads showing enlarged close-up details of artworks on which you decipher
nothing but the name of the artist printed in large above it. What does that tell you?


Cedric Caspesyan

9/10/2006 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

many mistakes again but the worst is "prevalenced"...oh my gawd thats ugly...What s wrong with me?


9/10/2006 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

This is the question I have. Does an artist have to show other people thier work to be an artist.

With myself, I always found my best work deeply personal. I considered the proccess of showing my work and selling it the price I had to pay in order to be able to do it and not much more. I am not sure if, I never wanted to show it to anyone, but I wanted it to be much more my choice, when and how.

9/10/2006 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Dialectic, linguistic or deconstruction of the artist... how passionate and boring

Feigning disinterest on a thread that was obviously much easier to just inconsistent and telling. ;-)

Does an artist have to show other people thier work to be an artist.

Good question. I would say no, but if that work is never discovered, then perhaps yes.

I had believed for a while that a "true Artist" must never show other people their work to be totally uncompromised, but that was before I began to think Art is communication and that requires a viewer.

9/10/2006 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger onesock said...

Does an artist have to show other people thier work to be an artist.

If yes, then in which context is valid? A gallery? Is a website sufficient? If the ultimate goal is communication, perhaps a website does the trick... if access to collectors then gallery? Perhaps both is best?

I hear you Ed on the "if art is not discovered" issue. Somewhere in an alternate universe ,on Earth number 2, A guy named Van Gogh made all that work, cut off his ear, the works, but because his brother hated him he is not known to anyone. On Earth 2 Van Gogh is not an artist.

Which raises an interesting question.. what is art like on Earth 2?

Geez,I gotta watch less Next Generation.

9/10/2006 11:28:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

o.s., I don't remember much about Earth 2, or even 3. Here on Earth 4, all art is awesome!

9/11/2006 01:22:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Ok, I am going to step into it now, by admiting that I think that Ayn Rand, wrote a great little book on this subject.

Her attempt to come up with a totally rational explanation for the role that art plays is pretty plausible to me.

I think that her, quote is that an artist tries to recreate the world according to thier metaphysical value judgements. That an artist is sort of a grand editor, who sifts through all the worlds data and picks out and shows thier vision of what is important. A work of art say's look at this (idea, concept, view of life) it's important.

9/11/2006 02:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The higher the thief the less the need.


9/11/2006 09:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I've finally come to the conclusion that your initial question was ill-posed.

I cited the example of Baryshnikov. "Surely, you have to agree that he's an 'Artist'?" No, he said, he's a virtuoso. And round and round we went.

You're being much too black-and-white, my ideological friend. You should not have asked "Is Baryshnikov an artist," you should have asked, "TO WHAT DEGREE is Baryshnikov an artist?"

Not only would the conductor friend have to pause and think about the answer to this question, but if the answer were a significant number, you could then argue about what proportion would consitute or signify "being an artist."

9/11/2006 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You're being much too black-and-white, my ideological friend. You should not have asked "Is Baryshnikov an artist," you should have asked, "TO WHAT DEGREE is Baryshnikov an artist?"

You know, I actually considered going that route (a Dante's Inferno-esque stages of hell-type heirarchy metaphor sprung to mind), but in the end, I don't believe in that (we've gotten nowhere near what I actually believe in this thread, so I figure I'll need to try from another angle) and felt it would offend people because it's elitist, etc. etc.

Then again, I'll give you the elevator version of my thoughts on this here: I think "Artists" are not only people who make art objects or set up art experiences, but rather people who do what they do so well it transcends it usefulness to become something sublime.

That has two implications for me: 1) people who make art objects that never transcend their usefullness to become something sublime are arguably "not artists" (which is what I was getting at in the original post by noting "even armed with an MFA, a graduate seemingly still needs to pass some unspoken test to earn the title "artist" for most people"...but I guess I should have written "for me" instead of "for most people" because I seem to be in the minority on that point).

And 2) being an "artist" is not a lifelong designation. It remains a fitting title only so long as someone continues to do what they do so well it transcends it usefulness to become something sublime.

or something like that...this line of thought is a work in progress.

9/11/2006 03:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Hmm... what you're describing, Edward, seems analagous to the relationship between a Buddhist monk & someone who is enlightened: not every monk is enlightened and not everyone who is enlightened is a monk.

If you want to bring back the analogy to artists, I'd suggest making the term "artist" be the basic term and come up with another term for the transcendant artist.

9/11/2006 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Ok, well, the idea (following Beuys again) is that if the mind is able to turn things into sublime than it should always be that way and people should be invited to develop this sense of seeking the sublime in everything.

Therefore everyone an artist and everything is art.

Sounds silly? But wait a minute..
I see phone cables aligning at the bottoms of my walls. This is not sculpture, I'm told. Yet I've never yet seen anything by Tony Cragg that surpass it, aesthetically.

I mean... a line of rubber surrounding the four walls at low levels? Who'd think of that as art?
But there if I sublime it, it becomes art. And if you sublime your blog, it becomes art.

The rest of course is consensual (communication), but to come to terms with trusting everyone's power to turn everything into sublime would imply that one doesn't need to make those things purposefully but could only have to
layer in their vision on anything they see and do.

If we agree to art as a power of the mind than it becomes harder to distinguish who is an artist from not. Objects produced by artists would remain the test. I you say objects are merely a way to test how the artist is able to conceive of the world artistically, but... Skills are limitative. I'd be the greatest artist in the world if I could achieve what I imagine. I'd like that being artist would simply mean having an artistic view on life. Developing the mental sounds to me as stimulating a project than exploring materiality.

That would be where I find an obstacle to art as being a product.
That form of art could as well be merely a proof, an attestation.


Cedric Caspesyan

9/11/2006 05:52:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

EW, your definition of an artist brings up some interesting questions:

1.) If someone is actively making art objects and they are not an artist, what are they?

2.) Within the tiny number of people left that actually create something sublime (and of course this in itself is terribly subjective), are some better than others? Are the only people who are artists either "great artists" or "even greater artists"?

3.) Do you have a similar set of criteria concerning who's a gallerist and who's not a gallerist?

9/11/2006 06:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

"Ok Ced...What do you so like in phone wires that Fred Sandback
haven't done?"

The fact that it's white rubber with an inner hole. Using cheap sewing thread is just gimmick. Try sculpt rubber.



9/11/2006 06:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Replies to David

1) Andy Warhol

2)I guess they are Plus Ultra artists..;-)

3) Can someone be bad at sublime is my question. Can you be sublime, but, just a taddy bad sublime?



9/11/2006 06:08:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

3) Can someone be bad at sublime is my question.

Or, can they be sublime at being bad? Or can they be subliminally sublime? This discussion is making me hungry. I need some popcorn...

9/11/2006 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

it's in its infancy as a theory, David, so I'll have to ask that all the answers be taken with a grain of salt (besides, you artists are supposed to have the answers to such questions, no?)

1.) If someone is actively making art objects and they are not an artist, what are they?

Trying to be an artist, and surely far more likely to become one (but not guaranteed) than anyone else due to their conscious choice to make art. But that leaves another question...if they never become an artist, what are they?

2.) Within the tiny number of people left that actually create something sublime (and of course this in itself is terribly subjective), are some better than others? Are the only people who are artists either "great artists" or "even greater artists"?

Yes it's almost entirely subjective, but I need my own criteria, and I'm offering what they are here, so...

Yes, some artists are better than others. There are conflicting measures for this, which have to be blended for any objective assessment, I believe, but they are essentially, who reaches the most other people and who reaches the most other artists. With some median measure of those two things, I suspect you can rank them.

3.) Do you have a similar set of criteria concerning who's a gallerist and who's not a gallerist?

If you mean "gallerist" versus "dealer" then yes, I do. If you mean gallerist = dealer, then no, I don't. But if you mean "Gallerist" (capital G) versus anything else, then most certainly I do.

I'd suggest making the term "artist" be the basic term and come up with another term for the transcendant artist.

Perhaps it's too strict a criterion, I agree Ethan, but I did use a capital "A" on my term.

Even among the "artists" working hard and making strong art, I think there are those who rise above to become "Artists" through either sheer effort, smarts, perception, or perhaps just "talent."

I realize this is borderline insulting to many people. I don't mean it to be discouraging, but rather merely some of that advertised "tough love" we offer here.

9/11/2006 06:53:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

besides, you artists are supposed to have the answers to such questions, no?

Are you kidding? We're all waiting to find out if we're even artists :)

9/11/2006 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

There are conflicting measures for this, which have to be blended for any objective assessment, I believe, but they are essentially, who reaches the most other people and who reaches the most other artists.

I picture a cross between Thomas Kinkade and the Velvet Underground :)

A chicken-and-egg problem you're going to have here is deciding whether the "other artists" that an artist reaches are in fact "artists".

9/11/2006 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

A chicken-and-egg problem you're going to have here is deciding whether the "other artists" that an artist reaches are in fact "artists".


9/11/2006 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We don't need to dismantle a tent to get out of it.

The word 'transcend' is kind of worn out. 'More than the sum of its parts' still is interesting, a little. However, I think it's also good to understand that there are really no parts. Things don't exist in parts except in the spare parts world, which this is not that one.

More 'the sum of it's parts' and 'transcend', to me, represent a particular kind of act that manages to punch a hole in the world of appearances--that runs a fundamental dimensional, emotional shift: is a portal. The best art has always been that.

Too often our pillars today have one-foot-foundation in the firm of the spare parts world. They are really the poles of a ratty old tent!


9/11/2006 09:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>Things don't exist in parts >>>except in the spare parts >>>>world, which this is not that one.

I think I understand what you mean, and it is why I see art as limited against philosophy until it becomes a philosophy.

But coming back to pragmatic and proofs, from what I read here it seems that if Edward likes one of us's art it would mean great chances to be an artist.

I have nothing against severity and hard judgment but... will others follow Edward's tastes?
Is it a warrant of some kind?

This said I've seen stuff at Gagosian that were very so-so to my tastes.

Often it's because the artist once did something great than kept repeating themselves but that is another problem: once you have sublimed yourself out...Is it still good art to repeat the same gimmick?? Or is it just truly a signature thing?? An etiquette.
A brand. Something trendy. Etc...


Cedric Caspesyan

9/11/2006 09:31:00 PM  
Blogger onesock said...

But isnt that sense of "trying to be an artist" the ideal state of mind? Isnt that the way to avoid that staleness that Cedric warns against?

I dont take this view as any sort of insult at all. I hope that it is that "trying" that guides me always. Otherwise I am dead. I remember that story about Hokusai who said when he was 70 he may be closer to being good at 80, and even closer at 90 and perhaps achieve greatness at 100 yrs. (my version of story may be off)

And artists, or almost artists, or Makerthinkers (Deborah Fisher's word) are full of questions not answers.

9/12/2006 12:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

... the impossiblity/possibility to be in two or more places at once.

He was very much an overeacher as well as a humorist.
For me 'trying' is part of our human nature, 'harder' is slavery and misery. Somwhere between 'the ravonous and a demure' is where the spark of nature's will lights--

Actually, I have no idea what an artist is but 'if trying is what it takes' it sounds a generous sport!


9/12/2006 03:22:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

This is actually a big thing that I am dealing with in my gallery. I think that a lot of times you see artists that are not fully formed or don't have the full body of work yet and I try very hard to support them in some way. I think it's a process that has to be supported and not just one object that you make that makes an artist.

That's why, I love places like Pierogi, which seems to be about supporting the process.

9/12/2006 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

This post, and the related issue, "What is Art?" have raised important questions about public spending on art. The discussion is compelling but one-sided. Balancing views would be valuable.

9/17/2006 12:34:00 AM  

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