What is Art?

this afternoon I was at an art school waiting for a friend with whom I needed
to meet in order to discuss a paint order we wanted to place together. Like a
real artist, and more specifically a Hip-Hop head, he was late. What made it
worse was the fact that I kept trying to call him on his phone and I couldn’t
even get a dial tone. You can imagine how irate I became since patience is not
something I was ever blessed with, and this was the third time we were supposed
to meet and had to cancel in the space of two days. Another overhanging reason
that I really hate to mention – but feel that I really should – is that I was
getting restless waiting outside this particular art school because I have
always noticed that this art school is filled with what I will for now refer to
as ‘suspect artists’.

call them ‘suspect’ artists because to me most of the specimen brimming with
creative zeal, that bedazzle the worn pavements of the ordinary building of
their school, come across as if they are trying too hard to be artists. They
are the type of artists I have never liked to be associated with because they
seem to get attracted to art for the mere sake of being called artists, not
because they can create anything worth a second look. Then besides the fact
that most of these ‘suspect artists’ over do the artist look and talk, there
are some who just don’t look like they have a creative pulse anywhere within
their being. They look so pallid it is as if their aura has been bleached with
a chemical that is potent and definitely not colour safe.

while I was waiting for my tardy comrade, something interesting happened that
calmed my simmering blood and prevented it from turning into molten lava. I
fatefully bumped into another comrade in the arts, who also happened to be
attending this unfortunate institution, and he told me that they were having an
exhibition and while I was waiting I might as well take a look at some of their
work. After some initial vacillation I decided to oblige as it seemed like a
reasonable thing to do while I was waiting and I thought to myself come on how
bad can the art in this place really be.
So into the sadly ordinary building filled with ‘suspect artists’ I went
and what a surprise I got.

the surprise I got was not the type of surprise that would have me choking on
my own loathsome thoughts about the poor artistes that attend this wretched
institute, but rather the type that startles me at being so right in my
judgement. You see I really do understand that I am highly critical of myself
and others, especially when it comes to self, identity, creativity and any
other forms of expression. I am fully aware that I am judgmental of these
‘suspect artists’, as I have so affectionately referred to them, and I am aware
that I may be inaccurate in my assumptions. But these are my opinions and as
long as I am keeping them to myself then I will feel free to think them.

was really taken aback at the shockingly mundane standard of the work on
exhibition. For the most part it was as if these people were only learning to
draw and paint at a beginner’s level, and they had nothing creative to give
coming from within. Looking at some of them I couldn’t even begin to tell you
what they were being taught at this institution let alone what creativity they
might be bringing out. My understanding is that people who choose to study art
at a tertiary institution already have an inclination or talent towards
creativity and just need a little direction and exposure to refine their
abilities. As far as I am concerned this place is selling even these ‘suspect
artists’ short, or there is a different understanding of art in this particular
corner of the world.

was one artist however whose work I thought was brilliant. His work stuck out
in this place like an erect penis at a wet T-shirt competition. All his stuff
was just way above a cut better than everything else in the place. To be fair
there were other art works from other artists that I sort of liked. These
pieces would have certain elements I liked but none of them came together as
complete compositions like the work of this one artist. This dude’s work was
what I think art is all about, it was different, it was striking and both
evoking and invoking, it told stories without really saying anything, and it
had layers and layers there for multiple interpretations left to the awed

was while I was looking at this artist’s work that the interesting thing
happened that I alluded to earlier. While I was in this exhibition room alone
some dude walked in and asked me if there was anything I needed to know about
the exhibition. I kindly told him that I was alright and should I need anything
from him then I would gladly let him know. He curtly disappeared and I resumed
my critical analysis of the works on display. When I moved into the next
exhibition room this dude returned like a green-bottomed horse fly and took it
upon himself to start talking to me about the works in front of me. Me being
the noble gentleman I am I let him keep flapping his mouth trap and pretended
to listen while slowly trying to move away, smiling all along of course.

turned out to be quite persistent and he followed me all over the room, talking
as he stuck to me insect like buzzing away and wearing out my patience. It
turned out he was not a lecturer as I first thought, but in fact was a third
year student at this very institute of art. After rushing through what was left
of the exhibition in that room just to get away from this fellow, I told him I
had to meet somebody downstairs, which was after all the truth. This pest of
guy then tells me his work is being exhibited in another room downstairs and I
really had to see it. So I tell him once again that I have to meet somebody
downstairs, and what does he do? The persistent little swamp mosquito follows
me downstairs without saying anything, just grinning to himself – I hope – and
waits to see if in fact the person I am to meet is really there.

as it turns out the person I am waiting for isn’t there and so out of
politeness or reluctance to upset the insect-man, I follow him into the room
displaying his work. Well, if I had been surprised once already that day it was
nothing compared to what I was about to experience upon entering into this
room. This guy’s work was not just horrendous it was painfully un-artistic and
lacked any definition of anything. I am telling you now I have seen five year
olds produce more appealing work just by scratching their index fingers through
their own faeces. This guy’s work sucked like an old toothless lady trying to
bite into a bloody medium rare Transkei steak.

was even more surprising, or puzzling in fact, was that when we were up stairs
he was talking to me like some sort of expert showing me the work of first year
and second year students. When he saw me admiring the work of that other artist
he seemed pleased to mention to me that that was just second level work as if
there were greater things to see. And what is even worse is that while I was
being subjected to staring at this awful mess, I had to also listen to him tell
me the meaning behind all of his paintings. He told me art was how he expressed
his feelings, especially his feelings about losing his mother at age four and
how he was dealing with life at the moment. It was the fact that he was opening
up to me about such personal and sensitive matters that I didn’t take my head
phones off and strangle him to a humiliating death so that he could never again
contaminate the world with his art.

was a most interesting feeling I was experiencing listening to him talk on the
one side, and also at the same time staring awkwardly at his work. None of what
he was saying seemed to be coming out of the paintings or the drawings. None of
it looked like the work of a person who had been studying art for three years,
producing approximately forty paintings a year. The sensitive side of me was
intrigued by his story and wanted desperately to understand or at least get a
sense of emotion from the work. The cynical side of me was in disbelief that
this moron couldn’t see that this is not art and this has nothing to do with
what he was saying.

leaving the building, the ‘suspect artists’ and the intriguing insect-man I was
left deep in thought about what art really is. Often enough I have listened to
or been engaged in debates about what art is and what it is not. I don’t think
there really is one art, of course there isn’t. Art can be any form of
expression and it is open to as many interpretations as there are people out
there. Trying to put art in a box, where it is defined in certain terms is as
pointless as porno actors wearing underwear. However, I do believe that for art
to be art it has got to be appealing to someone other than the artist
him/herself. Hey? Come on, can any old whacked, semi-whimsical, paintbrush
holding plonker create something that only they really like and call it art?

The logical side of me tells me that that
right there is the definition of art: anything that is created by an individual
is art as long as they at least perceive it as art. But the artist in me would
like to hold sacred that which I know to be sacred, as if I want to protect
what I have and what I do. I guess this is what all artists do: we want to hold
art for ourselves and define it in the way we understand. Every artist out
there, no matter how liberal, has a style of art they do not really acknowledge
as art. Even artists within the same type of art whether it be graffiti,
modernism, abstract or classical argue over what is real art. And who are we to
judge another’s art?

my judgement of other artist’s work I feel like I am validating what I do as an
artist. If I can say insect-dude’s work sucks, and that there are suspect
artists out there who try too hard then I am creating a plane where my art
reigns supreme. Each artist must stand for their work and protect their domain,
whether they have an audience or not, but all the better if they do. When I
think about my art I think about my story that I am documenting through the
different mediums that I use. I also think about the impression my art makes on
other people and the reactions I get. It is not just about what it does for me
therapeutically, spiritually and fundamentally it is about the world at large,
it is about connecting with other beings. I get a lot from seeing people’s
reactions to my art because I see something I didn’t see before in something
that I created. That has got to be some sort of crazy.

whenever people ask me what something means in one of my works I tell them I
don’t know, but the truth is I do know. I just want to hear what meaning they
get out of it and hopefully learn something…


2 responses to “What is Art?

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