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November 3, 2019 / Congau

Artificial Art

An art revolution was started when one day in 1917 a joker exhibited a urinal at a gallery. Was that art or was it not? If it was then all kinds of wild and crazy objects must be allowed and those traditional items, the dull paintings and plain statues would be squeezed out in the evolutionary process of survival of the fanciest.

Everyone didn’t agree and there are still conservative painters and sculptors laboring in the old trade, but there is a dominant notion in contemporary art that the choice of objects must always be original and so the boundaries of what is admitted to the fashionable art world is ever expanding. In that process, what has already been done quickly passes into history; it remains interesting, but it cannot be repeated for art must perpetually reinvent itself, it seems.

For a thousand years ancient Egyptian artists kept drawing human shapes in profile. In medieval time church paintings were being reproduced throughout centuries. After the renaissance the artistic periods were shorter, but art history was still a slow river leisurely developing without violent interruptions. But then that darn urinal blasted it all.

Of course, that silly object was nothing special, only the question it asked: What is art? And for a century now the leading force in artistic development has been the attempt to answer that question. But really, does it need to be answered?

It’s certainly important to know what a word means before we can talk about it, and therefore all words need definitions, but that is usually a problem dictionary authors and philosophers struggle with. It wouldn’t be the business of an artist to define anything, even art itself, any more than it’s the business of a shoemaker to define shoes.

The artist, or whatever he’s called, should make whatever he finds interesting, and whether or not someone wants to give it that prestigious name of art, should be irrelevant.

Duchamp’s urinal was not art according to the definition of 1917, but according to today’s definition, it probably is. So what? The piece was not interesting in itself back then any more than it is now. Ask not if something is art. Look at it if it’s interesting.

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