What is art, anyway?
I spend a lot of time thinking about art, probably more than I spend making art. And that’s OK. Art often happens in the head first. On the other hand, as I’ve learned only in the last few years, it is also valid to just let my subconscious take over and trust that it knows what it wants, to be OK with not knowing what I am going to draw when I put the pen (or the digital stylus) down on the drawing surface.
When I think about art, it often boils down to these two questions: what is art? and what kind of art do I want to make?
Below is my sort-of answer to the first question. The second question will have to wait until next time.
Oh, that Damien
Damien Hirst is one of the most critically acclaimed, highly paid artists in the world. He is known for his shark in formaldehyde and his $50 million diamond-encrusted skull which may be the most expensive piece of art ever sold. The superlatives abound. Many articles have been written about him. He wants to elicit a reaction in the viewer in order to question the origin of that reaction. He also insists that art as pure decoration is OK. The result is that sometimes his work shocks with its depiction of brutality, and other times with its sheer banality. He also does not create many of his pieces himself anymore, he has a studio full of assistants who assemble, shape, or paint his work according to his directions. Here’s a 37-minute video interview which is illuminating. It increased my understanding of and respect for his art. That said, Damien Hirst is by no means one of my favourite artists.
Contrast this with Thomas Kinkade, who recently passed away, but was another well-known artist from the same generation as DH. Thomas Kinkade also had an assembly line of assistants working for him, painting his paintings, which he would then sign. His art is loved by millions of people, is very affordable, and has made him a rich man. But TK’s art is infamous among high-brow art critics for its kitsch: pastoral landscapes dotted with deer, babbling brooks and twinkly-lit cottages, all infused by an other-wordly, in my view rather creepy glow, for which he became known as “the painter of light”. These paintings are meant to please and lull, rather than offend, or even question anything in any way. I personally abhor that kind of art, but even Damien Hirst, the artworld-approved artist, says it’s OK to be decorative. So what makes Thomas Kinkade’s a lesser art than Damien Hirst’s? Or are they both equally valid?
This is where I give the answer to everything
I have my obvious opinion on DH vs TK, but on the other hand, I could never be totalitarian about it. I will say that I believe that art, ideally, should introduce a unique point of view of the world not previously considered, and besides that it might raise questions, offend, challenge, evoke emotions, entertain, generate pleasure, and so much more. To me as an artist, the question “what is art?” is on the same level as “why are we here?” or “where do we go after we die?” It is one of the big questions, none of which can be answered with 100% certainty. But they allow for great discussions, and the search for answers results in the construction of art movements, philosophies, and religions — all of these are nothing but delightful byproducts of the human quest.