I wasn't spawned from a computer, just raised by one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What is Art, to Me?

(Short Essay for Post Modernism and Contemporary Art class)

Dictionary.com defines art as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” But what is an aesthetic principle? Who decides what criteria forms the terms of being above “ordinary significance”, or feels qualified to judge work significantly based on the expression of the artist or artists in question? On the first night of class, the statement was made about “bad art” being something that we are willing to reject, but I have never felt particularly comfortable rejecting another’s efforts. There are things that I like, and there are things that I do not like, but I do not believe that makes the latter “bad art”. I think “good art” is art that has served its purpose, whatever that purpose is, if done justice, quality remains opinion and strictly relative. For example, to me, the definition of making good art and viewing good art are two very different creatures.

To create is to release. It can be both recreational and therapeutic. Why are pastimes like painting and poetry becoming such common tools for therapists and psychologists trying to reach their most troubled patients? To make art can be relieving, even euphoric, to be able to cleanse yourself of whatever emotion, good or bad, that you have had screaming inside of yourself. It can offer a form of closure and no one is qualified to judge that. Which is why I try not to, a piece of art is always hard for me to separate from its creator. However abstract, it is a piece of them. To reject it is to reject a part of another human being, and should not be taken lightly. Any art that meets the needs of its artist is good art in that respect. Everything comes from some place, and having never been to that place, I try not to judge it as good or bad, but rather, as appealing to me or not.

To see good art, or as I have tried to define, art that is appealing to me on a personal level, is to view something that stirs my emotions. Whether that means it has made me sad, happy, or even angry, it has forced me to take the moment to appreciate or at least acknowledge the feelings I experience and the meanings behind them. I believe art can be a very personal thing and is best experienced when viewed as so. I believe in Ms. [my Art History teacher]'s assessment, original or no, that if you feel drawn to a work and you don’t know why, it is because you either don’t know enough about the piece or you don’t know enough about yourself.

When I was eight years old, I had one of those old Jumpstart computer-learning games. I spent hours on it and always on the same level, never moving forward. It was not that I could not go forward; I just did not want to. The game level was home to a fictional museum that you had to explore looking for the painting that corresponded with the question given for the round. Instead of looking for it, I just looked at the artwork. The most famous works scattered in museums and galleries around the world, in one place. I have always loved the French Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet. I used to joke that it was because his world looked just like mine, sans glasses or contacts. Still, I kept returning to A Bar at the Folies- Bergere by Edouard Manet. I would study it repeatedly, looking deep into those girl’s eyes, like points in space, black holes, taking in all that was in their path, returning almost nothing. It was not until hearing a lecture on one interpretation of the painting that it hit me why I felt such a connection to it.

I was such a lonely kid. I spent much of my time alone, or in my mother’s hospital room. I never felt any real connection to the other kids my age, and they sensed that, too, and as some kids do, fed on it as a weakness. All those years, meeting those same large, sad eyes again and again, surrounded by all those other people, had I sensed myself in her? The slight burning in the back of my throat the last time I saw her says yes.

I think we find our own meaning, through words and pictures. Those meanings change, altering with our moods and perceptions as we garner more experience or fracture our images of the world, gaining room for more openness or sometimes less. Sometimes art allows us a meaning that is wholly are own, completely separate from that of its designer. In the same way that we give the opportunity for someone else to see something in our efforts that we did not or could not see ourselves. That does not make either opinion any more or less important, just different. Art is like that: never better or worse based on our views of it, just different. That is what makes it art, at least, to me.


  1. For me art is emotion. If I can't feel any emotion at all for a piece of art, it's not art to me, but it's very personal so something may be art to me and not to someone else, or the other way around.

  2. I still refer to my 12th grade pottery teacher. He would say that art is just appreciating people's mistakes. I love that.


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