What is Art and what is an Artist?

006Art is the pleasant picture you have hanging on the wall of your lounge.  Art is the act of an artist whatever the visual result.  And also art can be anything between those two extremes.

Confusing?  Of course.  Art has always been so and arouses strong emotions.  Here, I will attempt to describe what I believe to be Art created by an Artist, knowing that my interpretation will  differ from that of others’ – and perhaps yours.

First in my list of necessary requirements for someone to be an Artist is that they create something visible or, in the case of sculpture experienced by a blind person, something which can be appreciated in a tactile way.  I also believe what they create should remain in existence long after they have created it.  That puts me in contention with huge numbers of conceptual artists whose art is of the ‘performing’ variety.  All ‘performance art’ is, for me, drama.

Secondly, I expect an Artist to be in possession of a level of technical skill.  Damien Hirst has admitted that he cannot draw and wishes he could.  In my book, that rules him out as an Artist.  However impressive his works, he is a compiler of interesting things and his works have more in common with dioramas.  The fact that there might be a message behind what he makes doesn’t bring them any closer to being art because art is only partly about ideas.  For me, the basic skill required by an artist is the ability to draw (I do not exclude the skill of drawing with a computer).

Nearly a hundred years ago Marcel Duchamp exhibited items such as urinals (which he called Fountains).  He also drew moustaches on copies of the Mona Lisa (those who know my theories on Leonardo’s love-life will appreciate why I like those).  These, and the other  bits and pieces he exhibited, he dubbed ready-mades. They were art, he claimed, because anything could be – as long as the artist declared it to be.  Now you may debate that as long as you wish to (and people do) but the bottom line is – Duchamp was an artist, not because he produced ready-mades, but because he could draw and paint well.  He was also a clever man with a sense of irony so I wonder what he would think of  the fact that his theory was still being banded about in the present day as ‘modern’ and challenging.  His Fountains, etc., were exhibited in 1917.

Pre the invention of the camera there was little discussion on the meaning of Art or Artist.  It was obvious; most Artists painted pictures for rich people or organizations to hang in their homes or establishments (including churches).  Apart from religious subjects, paintings were often portraits or classical scenes in which the patrons’ relatives were depicted.  Then the invention of photography sent the pigeons scattering.  What future for Art when a camera could reproduce what was in front of it more accurately? The hunt was on for  justification. 

First came the Impressionists, then the Expressionists, Surrealists – the list goes on and on.  Being a recognised and successful artist no longer depended on how well you could fool the onlooker into believing your pictures were real.  Now an added dimension was the Artist him/herself.  What were they trying to say?  Most people these days expect to have an element of this in the art they choose to decorate their homes and being purely representational (however impressive) is no longer considered enough to justify a work’s existence. So art today is an amalgam of technical skill and message and, of course, style – the artist’s personal ‘signature’ which permeates their work. 

Skill, message (if there is one) and style. Three things which define a work of Art for me.  And the Artist?  Well, he or she is simply the person who made it.