What is Art?

Cafe philo Byron Bay, this Friday April 4th, theme: What is art?


How could I resist. Of course I went. A wonderful facilitator and philosopher from Sydney was there, to help the discussion going and to help the new born branch with a few practical hints as to how one runs a cafe philo. These have been the rage all over the planet for some nearly twenty years I gather. I had attended one very long ago in Le Flore in Paris and not been too impressed. High egos flying… I would never have dared to speak my mind there. Tonight was both relaxed Byron style and exciting. Of course the twenty five minutes address was good and got us going on a very high level which I suppose is THE way to have a juicy discussion afterwards. Because it’s not about winning a point but thinking around an issue, hearing others which leads to more little bulbs switching on in your old brain. And because time is limited there are only so many points of view possible -even in you own overheated mind (the whole point in fact).
That night’s theme What is Art? is a subject I have given some, if not a lot of thought previously so I could tune into it quickly. I do suspect some other topics would not really ignite in me so quickly… I did leave quite excited I have to share… Brain flowing is a lovely feeling.

Ok back to the beginning. These are my very very partial and limited notes from the introduction given by Dr Matthew Del Nevo from the department of philosophy at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
Absolute beauty is absolutely particular. In the difference is art. An outside beauty but also an inside beauty which shines through somehow. It is the inspiration that makes the artist. CDs (or any other mechanical reproduction) cannot reproduce the aliveness. And without life it is not art. There is an aura linked to presence that cannot be reproduced. Then came the 7 criteria of art from Baudelaire:
1) critical acclaim
2) longevity
3) influence (on the public and other other artists)
4) translatability (as in not culture specific)
5) indomptability
6)  productive (as in it makes more and more of an impression as time goes on)
7) memorable (as in it continues to haunt us/ remind us of ourselves)
The main quote was perhaps there is no valid artwork without longing.
Longing defined as universal, eternal and unchanging. Paralleled to Rilke’s quote where God sends us out in the world to “go to the limits of our longing”.

What I’ve come out with is a clearer definition for myself. It came quite left field from our second round of discussion. (After main speaker, we turn in small groups to debate. Then someone from the group sums that conversation for all the others. A word per group sort of emerges and we turn into the group again to see if that list of words kind of brings up more and does it for us.)
The list was: For it to be art it must have…
Transitoryness (don’t ask me, not from my group and can’t quite remember how this word came up)

Suddenly for me something became clear. (Others walked away with something quite different I’m sure.) For art to exist at all, there has to be co creation. In a way artists don’t exist. Some of us get the call to spend our hours writing music or words, painting or sculpting… These usually quite individual and brave people (call them writers, painters, musicians etc. if a name is needed), do not see themselves as making works of art. That would be ridiculous (and probably quite frightening for them… What a task! ….let’s sit down and write a work of art, what am I saying, make it a masterpiece old girl while you’re at it!!)
When attuned, when in flow they will “get” inspiration. And a high dose of inspiration is  an amazing experience, which is probably why they keep working as hard as most do. Their job is of course to give it their best to translate that inspiration into a finished work. That is where their skills, their craft takes over the project. The “beauty” they make might not be one we know, can recognize easily… I would think this unimportant. But if the work is not shared, not seen or not heard at all, it remains unfinished business. For books, we call these sad bundles: manuscripts, for drawings… sketches perhaps?, for music partitions, etc. None of these would get the Art label.

Someone, some other human being must be touched by the longing they can sense in the work and by the interpretation, the “beauty” produced. They don’t have to like it. They don’t have to want to live with the work. But they must get it. Something in the work will make them take the time – a little chunk of their lives and energy – to look deeply, listen intensely, read seriously, and be moved. Be stirred. Their own human longing has to be stirred. The bridge created between these two longings is an abstract one of course, a concept. (In science, they could perhaps have a name for that… The term “observer effect” which refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed, might do the trick). But to me, and until a better idea comes to mind, I will now give to that co creation moment the name ART.
Some of my grand father’s paintings do that to me. Maybe -and most probably- only to me. But if enough of us hear, feel, recognize, are moved, then it is Great Art. When all the seven of Baudelaire’s boxes are ticked actually. Then we can agree to call the maker of this work, a Master. Someone who has mastered not only great technical skills, but also created such a strong rendition of his “experience of inspiration”, materialized such a “universal, eternal and unchanging” longing that it resonate with ours… Yes, if confronted with a work we give it our full attention, are open to allowing it’s unique beauty to move us, then -and only quite rarely unfortunately- Art “happens”.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Zom says:

    So that brings up two questions from me. Does that mean that the Mona Lisa wouldn’t have qualified as art if no one had seen it?
    And is there such a thing as ‘bad art’?

    1. If no one had seen the Mona Lisa it would not be art indeed, I believe. It would be a painting tis all. Like lots and lots of works, bad or good actually -and this is only my or your intellectual point of view anyway- if it sits in your journal, in your portfolio, in you computer unshared with the world it has no chance of transmuting itself in gold. It is only potential art which has not given anyone an emotion, except its creator of course. At that stage, it has only done half of its job, walked half of the way. That can be fine. For example I have no intention of framing and exhibiting my journal pages and can only ever show them anyway to one doing journaling because no one else really gets it… Perhaps they have not co-created an emotional reaction to this kind of work… yet!
      But when you show your work, you are choosing to share it, to offer your vision, your fragrance in exchange for human brotherhood as Neruda so beautifully said. Maybe nothing happens when this person looks at it, not for this other but, maybe, in a few it really provokes an intense emotion. These can relate, they dived into it… also because they took the time to do so (Personally YOU might find this work crap but if it does the job for someone else… can’t be all bad, hey?). Time is SO precious these days which is why I really think it is a bad idea to show unfinished works… you only get this one go at people’s scattered attention. (And if you tell them its unfinished business, they’ll go Oh maybe it’s that shoulder, the background, this eye? instead of taking the full unadulterated-by-intellect looking at a work time you are asking of them in exchange for that enormous work on your part!!) You can share process later of course if you feel the need but don’t take all the desire and excitement out of that first time, that’s when the viewer is the rawest, the most capable of strong feelings (and there could be no second time!)

  2. C-Marie says:

    Oh, I loved this explanation of what makes “Art”. Translating the inspiration into a finished work which resonates with one and hopefully with many.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s