Exercise 2 – What is art?


What is art?

As a start I would say that art can only be something that is a result of  human activity, creation or intervention. A beautiful tree as found in nature is not art, but it could become art if intentionally used as it is or somehow modified by an artist for a purpose – I am thinking here particularly of the work of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone (1947).  Also a photograph of a beautiful tree could be an artwork being the tree seen through the eyes of the photographer.

I also think that the intention behind an artwork is important: the cereals I had this morning at breakfast are something produced by man but certainly not meant to be a work of art. But if an artist takes those same cereals and pours for example some resin on them, they might become a bad or good work of art – probably bad because it seems a very lame idea indeed!

And with this comes another point I think. To me art should be in some way innovative, bring forward a new idea, show something under a different light, give a personal insight in an old concept, stimulate new thoughts, emotions or mental  connections.


How do we know it is art?

I believe it certainly helps if it’s already in a gallery or a museum, because this type of place puts a sort of frame of glory or at least of interest around an object. After all whenever I did a nice drawing at primary school the teacher would say: it’s beautiful, put it in a frame! In any case I think the way of presenting something is undeniably important: if I wish to give someone a sweater for Christmas I put it in a nice package first. And seeing something in a gallery means also that somebody decided that it is actually art before me, it’s like the label of a brand on a piece of clothing. Then of course I can think otherwise.


Who decides what is art?

There are no laws but I think it’s a combination of factors: galleries, art magazines on paper and online, critics, public institutions and museums. And the passing of time: Michelangelo and Shakespeare will be artists forever, this is no more subject to change. I do not see that the public or the audience are really that important in deciding what’s good or bad art. The only thing people can do is agree or not agree with what is shown and like it or not. However,  the favour of the public can exercise an influence on which type of exhibitions are going to be arranged. For example in Rome, where I live, in five years I have already seen two big Chagall’s exhibitions possibly because Chagall is a sure hit with the public. By visiting an exhibition the public can reinforce the idea that something is art and make it more valuable.


Is it enough just to display a found object and say ‘this is art’ because it’s in an art gallery?

Yes, in a way, because of what I have just said in answering to how do we know it is art.


Duchamp said he wanted “to put art back in the service of the mind”. What do you think he meant by this?

I think that he wanted to make an intellectual point here, that art has not to be judged according to aesthetic values,  but for the concept or the process an artist wishes to put forward.


Is technical skill an important quality in an artwork?

To me technical skill is important because I believe that through mastery of techniques, knowledge of media and a lot of practising and experimentation an artist acquires the widest possible freedom when he or she comes to choose the best tools to express a personal vision, is not limited by what does not know and also gradually finds an individual voice. To this end I also believe that another important thing for an artist is to be aware of past and contemporary art movements. Technical skill does not mean that an artist has to make or create everything personally, but I think that also when trusting other people with the physical realization of the piece it helps if an artist is aware of the technical aspects.


Do you think art needs to move you emotionally?

Not necessarily. Sometimes an artwork moves me emotionally and leaves an echo for days, though there are other times that I don’t really like a piece at first sight but there is something in it that engages my thoughts and  acts on me perhaps at a deeper level or makes me aware of things I had not thought before. There are also works of art that I find very aesthetically pleasing and nothing more.


Does art have to be unique?

Not really. Also in the past of some paintings or sculptures existed several copies, even if there were differences because they were individually crafted so in a certain sense everyone of them was an original. Today mechanical or industrial reproduction and very recently 3D printing allow for perfectly identical copies. I think this is fine if this is the choice of the artist.


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