What is Art Anyway?

tools-of-the-tradeI have this discussion regularly with people about what actually constitutes art. A lot of the worst or most sensationalised examples are often brought up with the challenge, “How can you accept this as being ART? Don’t you find it immoral/tasteless/talentless/ridiculous?” It is almost like when you actually come out to the world as an artist, you have to solidly defend every piece of work that has ever been labelled as art to everyone’s satisfaction or you lose credibility for the label of being an artist.

In all honesty, who am I to judge someone’s work as art or not art. That is a job for the critics. I can judge whether I like a piece or whether I do not. I can judge whether something resonates with me emotionally or makes me think critically. I can look at a piece of work and admire technique, thought, beauty. And I do. I do all these things. But it is not for me to make a pronouncement on whether it is art or not.

So what makes me so arrogant that I call what I do “art” or call myself an artist? Well….let me address the second part first as it is the easier of the two. When I fill in the profession box in a form, I tick the artist box because I am paid to produce art and curate a gallery as well as design and present workshops on creative repurposing, art and crafts. I also have been paid for some of my art pieces that have sold at exhibitions and have been commissioned to do site specific installation art. It is what I do as a job, as well as what I do because, like breathing, I simply MUST. I go to sleep thinking of pieces I am working on or ones yet to be started. I work on it every day. I feel bereft if I don’t get to expressively create each day. I art, therefore, I am an artist. (Sorry Descartes!!!!!)
So what makes what I do “Art”? It is, of course, presumptuous of me to call it that. Once, someone said of one of my pieces that took quite a long time, a ridiculous amount of obsessive thought and planning and a lot of late nights and cramped hands to complete, that it “Looked like a doodle someone would do in a meeting”. I can remember being taken aback as I tried really hard not to let the comment hurt me. It was not delivered with malicious intent and it was my own false sense of pride and ego that stung….because after all…what ARE doodles? What are those things that people draw when they are letting their thoughts wander and their hands show us what is in their mind? Is that not exactly what I am doing? Trying to show the outside world what my inside world is like? And is that not my very definition of what art is to me?

I may take a concept, puzzle it out, look at it in different ways, sketch different ideas, choose a medium that feels right and experiment with different techniques in my chosen medium all before I start the final product….but in the end, you are still seeing my hands show you what is in my mind. You will see my thoughts and I will tell you a story in a visual way. So yes, it IS like doodling, just in a more finished and refined way. But that connection…that is what is important. That for one brilliant, bright and beautiful moment, someone else has been able to see into my mind…and if I am really clear with our connection…I might get them to look at the world, for just that little moment in a completely different way.

The process is different for us all. The meaning and techniques and motivations are different for us all. I can only tell you what art is to me and why I choose to do the art I do. You may or may not call it by such a label but I choose to remember the words of Andy Warhol…


So please excuse me….I am off to make more art.

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