Apr 19 | Posted by: Fighter #1 | Tags: Misc

The  building I work in has a lot of art hanging on the walls. Some of it’s good; some of it isn’t. Some of it fills me with seething, uncontrollable anger. Specifically, some of the paintings by minimalist pioneer Ellsworth Kelly. Specifically... Never mind, I can’t find them, and Googling them is just showing me more of his terrible, terrible art.

Now this is a problem for me. I have this gut reaction of hatred for his art, but intellectually, I dislike the idea of dismissing someone’s artistic expression. Rather than admit myself to be a hypocrite, I’ve decided to come up with some kind of metrics that allow me to intellectually dismiss Kelly’s work as the tripe I know it in my heart to be.

This requires me to define art. Rather than just resort to the old “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” standby, I’ve come up with two qualities to define whether any artistic expression (music, painting, whatever) is actually “art.”

1. Difficulty of creation. How hard is this work to make? The Sistine Chapel ceiling was hours upon days upon weeks of painstaking labor to create realistic drawings in a hard-to-reach place. Obviously, that is art. Jackson Pollock (another oft-reviled modern artist) created paintings that, while seemingly random and stupid, were actually mathematically-difficult to produce. Apparently, he splattered paint in such a way that it formed fractal patterns, and apparently, very few adults can do that. So, that’s difficult. Elephants can be trained to paint crude line drawings. That’s difficult for them to do. If you do something that is challenging to create (for yourself or for others), I’ll call it art. Kelly paints two squares on a canvas. I drew more impressive doodles in the margins of my middle school notebooks.

2. Uniqueness of expression. Are you saying something new and creative? The Beatles used brand new technology to create unique sounds with which to fashion pop music. Nobody had done it before; obviously, it’s art. John Cage said with 4’33” (an oft-reviled song), “hey, maybe the important part of a music performance isn’t the music itsself? Let’s bring everything that we normally ignore to the foreground and make it the focus!” It was strange, and it was an interesting, unique perspective. Kelly has been painting two squares on a canvas for over 60 years. I’d be willing to grant that he was creating art in the 1940s. He said, “hey, why does there have to be so much stuff in our paintings? Let’s get rid of most of it!” But that’s not a new message any more.

That’s just churning out the same schlock to get a paycheck.  That’s autographing photos of yourself at a convention. That’s going on a reunion tour in support of your Greatest Hits album. That’s selling Andre the Giant “Obey” stickers in bulk on Amazon. That’s... that’s...

Really ticking me off, and I need to stop writing now!

Anyway, don’t forget to come to our show next week, where we’ll play a bunch of songs that we’ve played before... oh...

And down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, we arrive at:
I think we can get some more prefixes on there! Anti-post-anti-modern art anyone?
That's a decent definition of art. Of course, it still ends up being completely subjective. How are we supposed to be prescriptivist with that? Maybe if we define art as having inspired at least X number of derivative works or being endorsed by at least Y professional "artist"...

I think art is like science and is best defined by peer review. If lots of people think it's art, then it's art. If lots of people make art in response to it, even better. is a favorite piece of mine. It's super influential, but it probably took about 10 minutes to make.

Any definition of art is going to run into trouble because as soon as you define it, an artist is going to make art that directly defies your definition. I would argue that's part of the point of art. Art is often about finding new ways to perceive and depict, often purposefully in direct defiance to the norm, like in the whole modern art movement.

That would work really well as a third bullet point (which I tried and failed to come up with) dangit!

So you're saying that Kelly has been trolling the art world for 60 years?

If art is a creation designed to evoke an emotional response, and it evokes hatred in you, then it's art. :P

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