Art or art

Well first off Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope it is a good one.


For this holiday post I wanted to engage the question of art versus Art. That age old, or at least a century old question on the difference between what is considered “high art” and all that other stuff they call “low art.”  I know that the distinction has come up already and the term entertainment has been thrown around as well as what Adorno called it, “light art,” bud I’d like to dedicate a post just to this distinction. First I really don’t see merit in defining which is which just yet and I apologize to those who do. I would like to start with a discussion of the category itself and why we as a society have felt the need to create it.


I know we could have an entire conversation on why our culture has the need to create categories in the first place and maybe we will someday here at this blog but for now I’d like to approach the conversation of why with art. I know that that may seem very simplistic to some of you but you never know, sometimes it is the simplest questions that produce the most complex answers.


Anyway perhaps an obvious explanation is our desire to award genius talent, to separate those among us who show an extraordinary ability. And when the goal of art was that sort of extreme realism and mathematical precision it was during the Renaissance, that distinction was necessary. But what about today? Today that ability is not measured by some sort of tangible talent but rather by a talent in approaches. I have to stop here and acknowledge the fact that for those who do not accept modern art as art this probably will suffice as an explanation of the two, but for those of us who see modern art as definitively art then let us continue.


So today when the definition has been so greatly expanded and the potential for even “ready-mades” to fall into the category of Art (yes with a big “a”) why should we even have this division? I purpose that based off my idea of art as an interaction, that all “art” can now obtain that level of “Art” depending on the interaction between the observer and the object.


But how much should we follow such a proposal, I mean are we ready to except the Mona Lisa and Duchamp’s Fountain on the same playing field? Well based on my interactions with both, yes.


I look forward to your thoughts,




2 Responses to Art or art

  1. Everett Scott says:

    I think the reason for such distinctions goes into the purpose of art. Ezra Pound wrote that “It’s all rubbish to pretend that art isn’t didactic. A revelation is always didactic.” And there’s a certain religious sensibility which affects a number of artists in their creation: D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Lev Tolsoy, Herman Hesse, et&c. It is hard to look at Joyce’s epiphanies and not see the kinds of religious revelations of the various Saints. Just as many (Pound, Mayakovsky, et&c) saw radical politics as their “religion,” because its goal was to elevate the masses. To use the Renaissance phrase, the value of Art was the “ennobling of the spirit.” It wasn’t simply a matter of telling a story or passing on a moral: the goal of the arts and beauty was to fundamentally reshape our characters, our consciousness.

    Entertainment (what some would call low art, I suppose) never sought any such purpose. I would imagine that the Dadaists would even argue that such a purpose is foolish, because it means ignoring the lives we have for some sort of abstract revelation tied to an equally abstract faith. (The irony being that they become didactic themselves by so forcefully opposing didacticism; they have a message as well, it is simply a message of opposition rather than faith.)

    I cannot remember the name of the book for the life of me, but one Marxist (Ranciere?) is currently arguing that art is either for the people and thus revolutionary, or it is mired in ‘mysticism, which is always reactionary’ (which is why politics and art mix so terribly). Capitalism seems on the other hand to turn art into pure commodity; there is nothing ineffable about a painting or a poem, it is just another pretty thing. I cannot look at Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Theresa as being just a statue. I guess that’s why the distinction is so important to me.

    To touch on your other comment, I think that most art has some level of entertainment to it, or no one would bother reading it; likewise, most entertainment has some level of art to it, or it would be too generic to be worth noticing. So when you say that all things can be art, I agree that most things have art to them, just as most have entertainment to them. That said, the distinction exists, for me, because they serve two different goals; they have two different sets of values and purposes.

    That’s my opinion, anyway; as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  2. This is a wonderful however difficult topic. I personally try to focus on categories of aesthetics as opposed to the catchall category of Art. It seems much easier to define the difference in Aesthetics as opposed to aesthetics. Art seems impossible to define due to what I think is a subtle morphing of identity as it passes through time and culture. I think anyone who has seriously tried to define art finds that we just cannot nail it down. Therefore, I try to focus on subcategories of aesthetics such as automobile design or abstract expressionism etc. — even mathematics has its own aesthetics. There are so many things that people call art yet I have much trouble defining it as such. However, I have no problem talking about the aesthetics of these subjects.


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