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Saturday, October 04, 2008

"The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away." - Ronald Reagan

***

On Art, and what should qualify as Art:


Errant Thoughts: The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines Art as follows:

"A pursuit or occupation in which skill is directed towards the production of a work of imagination, imitation or design, or towards the gratification of the aesthetic senses; the products of any such pursuit."

In those definitions, the adjective "aesthetic" is used. The same dictionary provides this definition of the word, when it is applied to a thing: "in accordance with the principles of good taste; beautiful".

If we accept those definitions, we can agree that works of art are works of imagination, imitation or design which should gratify our sense of good taste and of the beautiful. The production of these works requires the application of skill.

This definition is broad, for it encompasses classical art (which most often mainly attempted to reproduce, through imitation, the beauty of what we see around us), and modern art (which mainly produces abstract works of imagination)...

Our definition mentions good taste and beauty. These are, of course, subjective concepts, and they may vary across cultures and times. But I believe that there is a universal idea of Beauty that crosses cultural and time boundaries. Without it, how could we explain the reaction of a Westerner stirred by a Tang Dynasty vase, or of a Chinese or Japanese awed by Picasso's Guernica?...

The works of art displayed at the Singapore Biennale, at least those I have seen so far, fail to qualify as art, if we accept the definition of art elaborated here, using as reference the Oxford Shorter Dictionary...

We immediately regognize the pseudo-philosophical babble often used to describe worthless contemporary "art": "something elemental ... opening up existential questions ... an experience that is essentially sublime in nature ... [whatever this may mean]". This language is used by the "sophisticated" people (those who go to the openings of these modern art installations and really get it) to intimidate the uninitiated into believing that they are seeing and "experiencing" something great. You do not understand this babble (do not feel bad, nobody does, even those who speak or write it), but it sounds profound, and, surely, this work of art, to inspire such deep thoughts, must be something you must admire, even though you do not find it beautiful and do not respond in any way to it...

Art, in my opinion, should not carry a political message, or any message. The more art wants to tell us something specific, the less it succeeds as art.

Unless we change the definition of "art" in the dictionaries, the works on display at the Biennale are not art. People still associate art with the pursuit of the beautiful, which can be attained only through rigorous training.

Those works are not art, and the artists who produced them did not, in the doing, display any artistic skill.


Me: The Oxford (Longer) Dictionary: "The expression or application of creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting, drawing, or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."

I would say that classical art is about gratifying the aesthetic sense, whereas modern art is about trying to make a point.

Classical art can and does make a point, and modern art (more rarely) can and is aesthetically, pleasing, but generally this dichotomy holds.

I think we should clearly distinguish the two purposes of art, and perhaps create a new word for the latter, since it's very different in purpose from the former.


Errant Thoughts: I found neither emotional power nor beauty in the works I saw at the Biennale. I just cannot find any emotional power in works that are just seeking to make an abstract and rather abstruse intellectual point, or no point at all that I could fathom. Guernica or Goya's drawings hit you in the gut with the horrors of war. The abstract and abstract expressionist paintings of Willem de Kooning have the power to move you deeply, even if you do not quite "understand" them.

Art, whether it has beauty or emotional power (and beauty does have emotional power) appeals to the senses. The works I saw at the Biennale do not appeal to the senses, they appeal only (and not always) to the intellect.

Therefore, these works are not art in my book, they are just the (often pretentious) materializations of their creators' ideas, without any aesthetic appeal, and therefore no appeal to our senses. They leave us cold...

I agree with your statement that modern art is trying to make a point. But this is precisely for this reason that it ceases to be art. Art should not try to make a point, or, if it does, it should do it with aesthetic and / or emotional power, which takes you much beyond the intellectual point. If someone just wants to make a point, then the point is better made in an essay, with words.

If the artist must make a point with art, he should have the talent to create something that is bigger than the intellectual statement and will evoke an emotional response that requires no explanation.

Any work of art that requires an explanation (especially one that uses abstruse philosophical concepts) to justify or explain its purpose does not deserve to exist.

This was unfortunately the case for the works I saw at the Biennale.


Me: I think aesthetic appeal is a necessary condition for something to be art.

Which is why I largely dislike anything from Impressionism onwards.

"Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before." - Edith Wharton (1862 - 1937)


art appreciator on this work: "Freelance lensman Joel Yuen was elated when he was informed of his big win at this year's UOB Painting Of The Year (POY) Competition. His winning work, a series of archival inkjet print photographs, entitled Anatomical Fantasies of Meat, clinched the top spot in the POY Competition, a first in POY history."

That award-winning work described as grotesque by critics, is an art produced by the notion of manipulating images to make a point - it's not beauty neither it's aesthetic. if it has emotional power, it does helps make one feel sick at the sight of it (I guess that the work was awarded for its ability to disgust or provoke the emotions of the viewer). But my opinion maintains that this art is about making a point. This may be considered art (if art is an expression in any form) but should not merit an award. My definition of good art is the amount of effort and the level of skill being put into making the art to draw viewers' attention to be intrigued and fascinated, appreciated for hours. Good art should has the ability to make the viewer feel connected to it and have his/her senses gratified by it, beyond the ability to just making a point! So I kinda agree that some of the Biennale exhibits are not up to mark.


loksin on the official Biennale blog: The truth is the definition of ‘art’ as we understand it in the dictionary is outdated and passe in today’s context.

Since the days of Duchamp and warhol, art can be understood in two ways:

Art is a way of doing things, art is a way of seeing things.

Arthur Danto could not explain why Warhol’s Brillo boxes were really ‘art’ and came to realise that art really lies in the ’seeing’, the perception. Duchamp and John Cage both more or less agreed that art is really the ‘gap’ between the artwork and the audience. With Conceptual Art that states that art is really in the beauty of the idea itself, we really need to redefine art as ‘a way of seeing things’. Even the Buddha said some 2500 years back that the whle of life lies in the verb ’seeing’.

Back to Duchamp again, he chose the urinal to be called art, which was a way of doing things radically different from the rest. Baas Jan Ader (Dutch performance artist) died while performing ‘In Search of the Miraculous’. (He got lost in the sea in his boat and was drowned and subsequently found dead later)

While there are many people who would still argue that this is not ‘art’ as most people would understand it, i think we need to realise that these ideas have helped shaped what we call ‘contemporary art’ today.

So the key point: ART IS A WAY OF DOING THINGS, ART IS A WAY OF SEEING THINGS


And I'll put up posts about my visit last week... eventually.
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