A Discourse On Art, Artists, and Why You Aren't One

by Lux

on 06.19.12

To whom it may concern: I, frankly, do not give a fuck about your zealous Veganism, nor am I impressed by the diameter of your limp, stretched earlobes or your feigned fondness for Sylvia Plath, Bukowski, or Thoreau. You are not Audrey Hepburn, all grace and black-and-white glamour. You are not enigmatic. You are not revolutionary. You are a dust particle floating directionlessly through all space and time, as we are all fated to be. Not only am I unimpressed by these attempts to fabricate individuality and escape the ephemeral nature of humanity, but I believe that this sort of pretension acts as a catalyst for artistic ability’s decline in value and, tangentially, measure. You are not an artist.

Certainly, however, artists of real merit must have existed throughout history and do exist in the present day. In order to ascertain the reality and validity of “artists”, one must first define the word itself. According to Merriam-Webster, an artist is:

  1. obsolete: one skilled or versed in learned arts
    1. one who professes and practices an imaginative art
    2. a person skilled in one of the fine arts

Indeed, the word “art” is central to the definitions. Therefore, we must define this as well. Also according to Webster, art is:

  1. skill acquired by experience, study, or observation <the art of making friends>
    1. a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2) plural : liberal arts
    2. archaic: learning, scholarship
  2. an occupation requiring knowledge or skill <the art of organ building>
    1. the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced
    2. (1) : fine arts (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : a graphic art
    1. archaic: a skillful plan
    2. the quality or state of being artful
  3. decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

Dictionary definitions of art reflect its widespread dilution of meaning and significance; consequently does the quality of art suffer and ultimately cease to exist. Because of this perplexity of definition, many pseudo-intellectuals have come to the consensus that art is entirely subjective and, therefore, everything is art (see Work No. 328: A sheet of paper folded and unfolded, 2004). While subjectivity is inherent to existence and deeply ingrained in the foundations of society, it is the definitions and strictures created through language that allow humanity to function in ways dissimilar to those of other animals. Sure, you can say that a urinal is a masterful and brilliant work of sculpture (Duchamp, Fountain, 1917); likewise can you conclude Michelangelo’s David to be a urinal. Surely, then, if anyone were to utilize the work of marble according to this definition, he would not be found at fault.

This pattern of thinking is inappropriate in the context of society and all its implications. Therefore, the definitions of art must be reevaluated and clarity must be reclaimed in order for quality to be upheld. Rather than dictate a singular definition of what art is, I have determined several conditions that an entity must satisfy in order to be art. These criteria relocate the level at which personal subjectivity takes place, and it does not make much distinction between good and bad art. It does, however, distinguish between art and design, which are commonly thought of as separate entities and should be evaluated accordingly. Creativity is not a factor in the criteria, for it only influences the conceptual content of the work, not the quality or execution. Evaluation of creativity occurs after the work is categorized by the criteria, and is a facet of personal subjectivity.

the is it art chart

According to this system of judgment, abstract expressionism would not satisfy the first requirement, and therefore is not art. Impressionism would be classified as art, albeit low level relative to the level of skill required to produce it. Architecture would fall under the category of design because of its fundamentally utilitarian purpose.

Once the nature of artwork is determined through these criteria, the word “artist” gains discernible meaning. If you create art, you are an artist. Any social or behavioral patterns that may be attributed to the label are irrelevant. In this way, being an artist is no longer restrictive towards individuality unless by conscious choice, in the same way that riding a bike does not necessitate becoming a Cyclist and eating raw food does not require you to be a Rawist. Through this new pattern of thinking, the quality of art is not only preserved, but possibly enhanced, for artists need not be tainted by the clich├ęs and trends of the “art community.” Each individual is free to choose any number of archetypical labels for himself, or none at all if he would prefer to let his merits speak for themselves.