Sunday, 22 December 2013

I am an art (and so can you)

Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn't

You might have seen this facile semi-graphical maxim kicking around on everything from tea towels to Facebook covers +1 likes from me to Limited Edition GiclĂ©e Fine Art Prints® available in the gift shop (visit our Etsy pop-up store).

The above equation (which I've re-created using a bespoke digital imaging process) implies the act of creating art is simply in the doing. It implies merit (I could do that, therefore I will do that ∴ art). It also implies modern art is nothing more than doing a simple thing someone else hasn't already done, or perhaps taking something existing and labelling it "art".

If creating "art" was as simple as doing, there would be more art galleries than Coles supermarkets and there would likely exist a very bullish market for formaldehyde. There is much more to art than just the deed.

Say, for example, you wanted to give your pastel finger paintings or dirty bed a showing at an art gallery, what's involved? First up, you'd be up against the establishment.

As Howard S. Becker argues in his seminal book Art Worlds, art is a collective production, often involving dozens of skilled and unskilled individuals or groups to produce what can be considered art.

Other academics active in the field (pun intended, but to get the pun you need to know your Bourdieu from your Bordeaux) of creativity, such as Csikszentmihalyi and Janet Wolff have long argued that art is less an individual product that a product of society, which in itself is historically and culturally biased.

And all this is before we even get to the point of "reception", where works are deemed by an established elite to "be" worthy as art or not.

These art worlds tend not to be particularly accepting of new members. Like elsewhere in society, going to the right school and ingratiating yourself knowing the right people is often more important than merit, artistic or otherwise.

The reception of your finger painting/dirty bed/video installation of a bucket on fire while faux-faeces falls on the viewers' head from on high is more important than the work itself. The recognised people of the art world saying your work is "art" is probably the most important element of contemporary art. Note to self: make friends with Charles Saatchi.

Therefore, I propose a new, slightly less facile, equally glib semi-graphical equation to take the place of the aforementioned maxim:

A New Equation for Modern Art

Reading List:

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, Don Thompson (2008)

Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton (2008)

Art Worlds, Howard S. Becker (1984)

The Field of Cultural Production, Pierre Bourdieu (1993)

The Social Production of Art, Janet Wolff (1993)

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