The Laws of Nature

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is It Art?

Thanks, everyone, for a lively discussion about "What is art?" The twelve criteria that Dutton offers in his book fueled our previous discussion. Clearly, there's no straightforward answer to what art is. So, I'm posting below a variety of numbered images of creations to serve as a poll to see what you think. There's no "correct" answer - only opinion. I won't name the "creator" associated with each one because I don't want to bias your opinion.

The Poll: Which ones do you consider "art"? Which ones don't you consider to be "art?" Why?

Image 1: (below)

Image 2: (below)

Image 3: (below)

Image 4: (below)

Image 5: (below)

Image 6 (below)

Image 7 (below)

Image 8 (below)

Image 9 (below)

Image 10 (below)


Mary Paquet said...

Kathy, your post is fascinating. I can't wait to see what others say.

I will be fearless and jump in first. I find that I want to classify all of it (well, Duchamp has me stumped) as art. However, I believe there are subcategories of art. 1, 3, 7, and 8 look like paintings or sculptures that I think of as fine art. 2 is commercial art because of its use. Art of this type could be considered fine art (for example, Pam's humorous line drawings). 4 is graffiti art, 5 was voted as the most significant piece of art of all times by 500 art experts (http:// Does the end justify the means? 7 is home art, and 9 is body art.

We had this very discussion among our art group in the context of the Silicon Valley Open Studios. Do we narrowly define "art" when selecting what we want shown at my studio? Do we stick to watermedia (I show some pastels). How about adding a photographer or the computer artist?

Myrna Wacknov said...

Interesting! My prejudices are screaming right now. I would say the shark in the tank is not art. Ink blot is on the cusp. Worth looking at? Love the graffiti disgusted by the saccharine "you know who".

hw (hallie) farber said...

There obviously is an audience for No. 3 but I'm not among them. As a child I liked copying Elsie the Cow ads. The rug? Beautiful but not art in my book. The Rorschach? Maybe. Total: 8 yeses; 1 no; 1 maybe.

-Don said...

Isn't art all about intent, context and the reaction of the viewer? I've been told some of these pieces are art. Do they create a reaction in me? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. So, for me the question is, "is it art to Don?" This makes it a very subjective choice and my biases will rise to the surface.

I think the ink blot is on the same level as the urinal. Was the intent for function or for a statement? Would I stop and look at a urinal as a work of art in a bathroom? Nope. Would I stop and look at it in a museum? Probably not (personal choice), but it would cause me to think about "what is art?" - which was Duchamp's intent. But, then you also have to look at it in the context of the original designer of the urinal. Was form and presentation a part of the intent, or was it strictly functional? We're back to intent. It's the same with the ink blot. Was it created to draw conclusions from my visual associations in a neutral, antiseptic environment or was it designed to create a reaction in a gallery environment? Intent...

As I type this I realize this argument could be made for all of these pieces. Well, since I've gone to all the trouble to type it up, I'll leave it where I started - intent, context and personal reaction are my personal criteria for deciding if something is art.


Sandy Maudlin said...

Seems to me that they are all a form of art, with some a little higher, some a lot lower on the scale than others...commercial art, playful art, syrupy sweet, please-the-public-low art, body art, artisan and craft work, contemporary (but possibly fleeting impact)art, etc. It's great to live in a world that can encompass so much that's called art. Seems the trick is to develop long lasting, meaningful, well executed and creative art that speaks to the heart. It will be fun to see what the results are for your question. I sure enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...
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M said...

As I looked at each one before I read the responses, I realized I was falling into the hierarchial approach to defining art. My thoughts were similar to Sandy's. I say yes to all except ...

I think #1 is the seam in a brown sofa!
# 10 is part of a test.

Anonymous said...

When I see number three I think: he must have seen the results of the most wanted/least wanted paintings and painted accordingly.

I am going to be my mugwump self and see each could be, given the right context.

I like the answers given here. To me, they all show art is far more complex than the simple question "is it art" might suggest.

Unknown said...

Thanks, everyone! I'll reveal the "creators" tomorrow for further discussion.

Casey Klahn said...

I am still trying to decide if I am happy to recognize several of the objects by their creator, or disappointed because of the very same reason - I recognize these things!

Let's apply the test of rigor to some of these. I also want to apply a test of durability. let alone the concept of beauty...

Additionally, I want to disabuse myself of considering whether the maker of an object is known. Can I have my own mind about it?

Just some random thoughts and comments. Great idea, here, Kathy!

Four Seasons in a Life said...


This is like opening up Pandora's box because we are not going to settle much, yet I shall venture ahead fearlessly as the examples nicely cover a wonderful spectrum.

I have read the comments you have received with this question and all readers bring up nicely various points of interests.

Yet as I ponder on the responses and my own thoughts, I noticed that each one approached the question from what defines fine art.

First off, I would be inclined to say that everything is art and believe me there are a few pieces I personal do not view as art.

So is there a contradiction here? No.

The Duchamp's urinal, the $12 million Dollar shark and 'Painter of Light', I do not consider art, but I do consider the craftsmanship art.

It took technical knowledge to design and produce the urinal and is that not art?

The shark entombed in acrylic resin took craftsmanship in order to secure the shark in perfect position and the knowledge to pour the acrylic resin to leave no traces of air bubbles. This I consider art.

Though I consider the painting in question not art, it still took the understanding of colour and its transformation intro a visual representation and is this not a form of art?

If No. 1 is a representation of Rothko's black paintings in Texas, I call it art, but if you would have asked me 15-20 years ago, I would have said no. But education and exposure to a variety of art is only another element which i will not embark upon.

Having worked in advertising, No. 2 is art while No. 3 I consider kitsch. As for the graffiti, it is art, urban art with a highly developed sense of typography.

The urinal (5) and the shark (8) cannot be considered art because neither artist created the object, they only conceived the idea.

No. 6 is art as is the Persian carpet (7), especially when one considers it takes years of internship as an apprentice to become a master weaver.

The human canvas involves two different kind of artists. The designer/artist of the design and the craftsman executing the design. Therefore I would consider it art.

Finally we come to the last piece, which I would classify as accidental art of little value, unless care and purpose was behind the creation of a design.

So in conclusion what art is takes on different aspects, depending which view we take when deciding what we believe art is.

Warmest regards

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - yes, knowing who the creator is does bias our thinking and makes it more difficult to make a personal determination. When we know that something has already been deemed "art" by critics, museums, and the general public it's hard to disagree. We are influenced by these "judges." Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Hi Egmont - thank you for a substantive review of each image. Your viewpoint is very interesting and adds much to this conversation. Perhaps we should consider Pam's question about the difference between "art" and "craft!"

Celeste Bergin said...

Have to agree with Don--it is all art as long as the viewer thinks so. I have a wonderful senior citizen friend who has bought me a number of Kincaid candles and puzzles thinking that I would love them since she knows that I am an "artist". I can't educate her on the matter of Kinkade's schmaltzee-ness..(Well, I've tried a little, but she totally thinks he is wonndderful). The Currier & Ives prints were also considered over the top sentimental by artists when they were popular too. So, perhaps Kinkade is the modern day version of Currier & Ives. Who am I to say his work is not art? My friend Irene can't get enough of him and undoubtedly wishes I could paint as "great" as him. (UGH.) haha