when is it art?

A couple days ago a friend left a comment on one of my blog posts asking, “when exactly does something become art?” Here’s my response.

When does something become art? it’s very simple actually. Whenever someone wants it to be. That’s really it.

I don’t believe in being definitive in declaring something art and something else not art. Art is whatever anyone makes of it.

My definition of art is such: Art is the act of an engaging experience and recognition of such.

When I was photographing, I saw beauty in the way the sun was hitting the subtle curves of a school bus bumper painted blue. That aesthetic recognition moved me. I didn’t know why exactly at the time. Art often doesn’t have answers. It can be mysterious like that. That experience was art to me. Some people can look at the bumper and be specifically reminded of the soft waves of the ocean climbing the beach. Everyone experiences art in different ways. All that was needed was for me or anyone to notice the bumper and find interest in it. (Actually, I knew why I found interest in the bumper, but I was just using the “mysterious” angle just now to demonstrate a point. During that photo shoot, I had planned to hunt down simple fields of color with shifting shades.)

To you it can be just a bumper and nothing else and that’s fine. You may find an interest in the way the defensive and offensive lines line up in a football game. I may not. Someone else may think the ace of spades is the most beautiful card in a deck of cards. Everyone is an artist. Everyone is constantly encountering experiences that can be art. Actually, it’s a never ending event. Every single moment of life is art waiting to happen and all it takes to become art is the recognition of such.

Our society has dictated that some form of talent or craftsmanship is needed to be an artist; that art is a physical tangible result of a skilled process. That’s incredibly short-sighted. The object is not the art. The experience is the art. A painting with no human recognition is not art. It’s just paint on a canvas.

To me, being an artist is finding something that engages and sharing it in some form. It can be shared with one million people. It can be shared with one other person. It can be shared with just yourself. It’s not necessary to translate my bumper experience into a tangible form. Only I need to experience it for it to be art. It’s sad that our society doesn’t instill this artistic sense in everyone. We’d be more culturally advanced and enriched if we did. We are a world of artists and we don’t know it. You don’t have to make a painting of the school bus bumper to be an artist. You just need to find some form of engagement of interest in it and recognize it as such.

So I experienced art when I saw the school bus bumper. I could have moved on with my life from that point. But I didn’t. I wanted to share that experience with others. How do I do that? I could have ran down the street and gathered as many people as I could to show them the bumper and talk about it. I could have pulled out a canvas and painted what I saw. I could have hit the bumper to a bloody pulp to see how its form becomes altered. Instead I decided to photograph it so that the photograph may potentially be shared with countless other people. But now I’m putting the horse before the cart. First I must capture the bumper in a photograph.

In fact, it is that creative process of photography that I found more stimulating than the potential of sharing it with countless others. Some artists thrive on sharing their experiences with others. I find more satisfaction in the process itself; the process of exploration gives me the reward. I have made plenty of art that I have zero desire and zero intent to share with others. Some forms of art are intended for personal growth and exploration only. All artists have their own reasons why they do what they do.

I was curious how the bumper visual which my eyes saw would translate into the photographic medium. My intrigue about capturing the bumper photographically and the controlled, yet uncontrolled process of which enhanced my experience. “What will this look like when photographed?” “What do I want it look like when photographed?” “How do I capture it properly?” “What’s the best technical way to capture it?” “Do I know what the hell I’m doing?” “Is photographing it even the best way to capture it?” All sorts of questions enter the scene.

What began as a simple artistic experience became much more involved. This is an instance of art growing and expanding. So I’m taking that personal experience and interpreting it into something new. The creative process is powerful which partially explains why our society obsesses over it far more than the actual experience.

I made my decisions how to photograph the bumper. I wanted the photograph to show no signs that it’s a bumper. I wanted the photograph to demonstrate the simple beauty found in the subtle gradation between two shades of blue. It would be a dramatic, yet gentle natural interplay between two colors. I made my decisions about how to process the film, scan it, and represent it visually. In this case, I failed in the creative process. I overestimated how dark the shadow would photograph. The learning process from that failure is art because it’s an experience I found rewarding in life’s journey. But in this case let’s say the result was what I intended which is a subtle gradation between two shades of blue. Then I share the photograph with the world. It’s now up to them to decide if it’s to be experienced as art. And that’s where I think you’re question was originally targeted, Mark.

I think you should be more concerned, Mark with what is good art and what is not good art. Don’t be concerned with whether something is art or not. By closing something out right away as not being art, you are completely shutting the door on any sort of experience whether that experience is deemed good or bad.

Is my blue gradation photo good art or not good art? It depends on who you ask.

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Matt Maldre
14 years ago

very true. You need to submit this art magazines and newspapers.

Mark R
Mark R
14 years ago

I should reference this entire discussion in my philosophy class. I think the professor would enjoy it.

Mark R
Mark R
14 years ago

You said people should be concerned with whether something is good art or not good art and not whether it is or isn’t art.

Can something be “not good” art? If the object or experience is not good, then it stands to reason that it didn’t engage or interest the observer. If that’s the case, then how can it be “art” using your definition?

This then brings us back to the question of is it or is it not “Art”.

14 years ago

I feel art is everywhere. It invokes a feeling of passio-n. I think everyone has the ability to look at art objectively and in 3-D by training their brain to do so. Art is an extension of the artist who creates it. It is how they feel at the time it was created. You don’t need to be an “artist” to create art, you only need to be able to express a feeling.A dancer can feel the music that a song writer created, the song writer invoked a feeling to the dancer who in turn creates another artistic expression to… Read more »