What is an Artist?



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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93 Responses

  1. Avatar Guy says:

    The fundamental essence of art is skill. Great art must demonstrate some kind of skill: sometimes this is a literal skill at a particular craft, such as painting or carving, and sometimes it is a more abstract skill like the ability to notice foolishness in other artistic movements, or the ability to construct an interesting reaction in an audience.

    Or, no, Kliman is dead wrong.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Glimmer’s account is both accurate and inaccurate. It is more about the personality and belief system of the artist rather than what the artist does. This type of personality might be more common when the artist operates without a patronage system from aristocratic or ecclesiastic circles but it might have always existed to an extent.Report

  3. 1. A qualified “no.”

    2. I don’t have a definition. Perhaps what Guy says above about skill is a good starting point. Whatever definition I would come up with would probably not focus itself on art’s subversiveness or its traditionalism or anything else, and probably not as an essential feature.

    3. I’ll answer as if my no. 1 was “yes”: Even “traditionalist” art is often subversive or radical in the sense of Kliman’s statement about art as “the means to see through the falsehoods and fatuities of the culture, the innumerable corruptions at the level of language, the lies of the state.” I wouldn’t be surprised if traditionalists see themselves as that, with perhaps a slight exception about “lies of the state.” Especially if the artists style themselves as traditionalists. And if we’re talking about art and artists from times past or from places we (i.e., I) are not familiar with, it’s probably safe to assume that what we see as “traditionalist” now arose as a critique of some sort of the way things were at the time the traditionalist art arose.

    I’m using weasel words (“often,” “wouldn’t be surprised if,” “probably safe to assume”) because I’m not very familiar with art or art trends, especially non-Western ones (notice I don’t actually cite any examples), and because I disagree with Kliman and am not prepared to say that art by its very nature is radical.Report

  4. Avatar gingergene says:

    So, when I was in high school, we were given a similar task in one of my classes: “Define music” and most people either went to Webster’s (I was in this group) or gave the rote response from the choir/band director (Something like “a collection of notes and pauses set to a rhythm”). One of my friends defined music as: “Sounds I like to hear”. It struck me then, and continues to strike me now, as just about the best definition of music I’ve heard, and I would say it well answers the broader question of “What is Art?”: it is stuff I like to look at, hear, do, experience, etc.** And of course “like” in that sense could mean anything that I find pleasant, or challenging, or awe-inspiring, or any other number of emotions/senses that *I* think are “good”.

    So, with that rambling preamble, I would say (somewhat tautologically, I know):

    (2) An Artist is one who makes Art, as defined above. Some Artists are paid, some are paid handsomely, some are not paid, and some don’t even seek payment.

    (1) That may be Art for Kliman, Art is much more than that to me.

    (3) I wonder if Kliman isn’t being a little tautological himself: i.e. He thinks Art is radical and challenges authority, and so traditionalist art is either secretly subversive (as @gabriel-conroy suggests) or if it isn’t, that it isn’t really Art. (Maybe it’s kitsch or something else which is Not Art to Kliman).

    **Of course, I realize that a definition as expansive as I’ve given means that between the billions of residents of earth, past, present and future, there is literally no sound that isn’t Music, and nothing that isn’t Art. I am perfectly comfortable with that; context is everything, as They say.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Music is patterned sound. I don’t care if you like the sound of a phaser, it’s not music until you’re hearing it more than once.

      I know people who made music out of birdsong soundbanks. It’s actually pretty good music, too.Report

      • Avatar gingergene says:

        So when someone says, “That’s music to my ears!” they mean that they heard something repeated?Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          That just means they liked whatever.Report

          • Avatar gingergene says:

            Exactly. And the reason they compared it to music and not something else is that, consciously or not, they are defining music as “a thing which sounds pleasant”. No rhythm or repetition required.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Music is to sound as a Paragraph is to a word.
              A sound can be pleasant, as a word can be so — but neither is the greater whole, and the skill of joining together pleasant or dissonant sounds (be they spoken or sung) is wholly different than the skill of coining new sounds or words.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:


              They could be comparing it to music because they are thinking of music in that moment as “groups of sounds that tend to be particularly pleasant for me to hear.” But that doesn’t mean they don’t define it in the way Kim does, or in some other way that’s more specific than “pleasant sounds.”

              Indeed, for the comparison to have any oomph, music needs to be more than just pleasant sounds, otherwise you’re not saying anything more than “that’s a pleasant sound.” You might as well just say “that’s a pleasant sound” or, more likely, “I like the sound of that.” Which I know is what you’re saying they’re saying, but I think you’re mistaken. It’s more superlative than that. People say, “I like the sound of that” all the time; when they say, “That’s music to my ears,” they’re saying they really like what they’re hearing.

              But that doesn’t mean music is just sounds we really like, either. Music could be sounds we tend to really like because of some ordering principle(s) that cause us to really like it, or to find lots more groups of sounds that we really like within it (i.e. in music) than within the universe of all groups of sounds. nd I think that;s what is the case. Music is sound that is ordered in some particular way, likely with that ordering being culturally relative. But it’s not just a reductive standard of “Sounds that are preferred within a culture.” Music is particular arrangements of sounds within various cultures (and some elements of those arrangements have great commonality across cultures, such as pulse, pitch versus noise, higher versus lower pitch being significant, etc.). I think Kim is right that’s music s sounds of some certain sort arranged in some certain way. I don’t know that she’s specifically right about repetition, but she’s not down the wrong path in thinking it involves specificity relating to particular qualities of sound in some way or other.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Sorry, this was in response to @gingergene, not Greg.


              • Avatar gingergene says:

                Here’s why I like the broad definitions: If you start your discussion with “What is Art?” or “What is Music?”, it sounds like you’re debating an objective thing that has an Answer. There’s what music or art is (the right answer) and there’s everything else that isn’t music or art (wrong answers).

                The problem with that, as this thread demonstrates, is that Art and its subsets like Music are waaay more subjectively defined than stuff like bridges are (to use @crash ‘s example).[1] But the framing of the debate emphasizes objectivity and minimizes the subjectivity inherent in the question.

                I’d rather re-frame the question to one that highlights the subjectivity. What is Good Art or Bad Art? Now we’re starting from a place where there are no right or wrong answers; there are well-defended opinions and poorly-defended opinions. So rather than debate (as per @kim ) whether Music for Dogs is Music, we can talk about whether or not it’s Good Music (which would be a fascinating discussion – how to critique a piece of music that is largely inaudible to you?)

                TL/DR: Nouns imply a debate about facts; adjectives, about opinions. Since Art is highly subjective: “Is this Art Good?” > “Is this Art?”

                [1] Things are probably easier to define when more people agree on their purpose. Bridges exist to move objects (I’m defining people as one class of “objects” here) from one side of an obstacle to another by going over the obstacle, and if you polled 100 people, you’d probably get at least 98 of them to agree with that. Ask 5 people what the purpose of music is, and you’ll get 7 answers. Not only can the same piece of music serve different purposes to different people, it serves different purposes to the same person at different times. Bridges rarely have such expansive requirements.[2]

                [2] Funnily, one of the perennial debates we do have about bridges is how much we need to consider aesthetics in their design, which brings us right back to this conversation: whether or not bridges are (or should be) Art.Report

      • Avatar El Muneco says:

        So “4:33” isn’t music, because not only isn’t it not repeated, it’s not even repeatable, since every listener experiences it differently, even if it’s the same listener from one performance to another?Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I’d say 4’33” got grandfathered in as music essentially through the power of authority. At some level, if a musician of enough stature makes it, it kind of gets backdoored past all the other standards and still gets to be music. I don’t think anyone could start out their career with 4’33” and have it be called music. Cage was already an established composer when he composed 4’33”. We would have no problem, I don’t think, saying that 4’33” was not music (but also no problem saying it is an entirely legitimate piece of performance art, and I would argue, “meta-music” – art that teaches us about music), had someone composed it who was not a successful composer when he did, nor someone who would go on to become one.

          The other thing about 4’33” is that it’s a one-time-only conceptual piece. Not only is 7’19” not music, but it’s plagiarism, too. So 4’33” is not an ongoing problem in music, but a kind of unique bug in the software of music that came into existence (once!) through the imperfection of the way fields like music or art fit within the academy.Report

          • Avatar El Muneco says:

            For the record, I agree with all of this, especially the categorization as “meta-music” – that seems exactly right to me.Report

          • Avatar Guy says:

            Alternatively – and I bring it up because you point to its uniqueness – zero and one are numbers, and the empty set is nevertheless a set. The shortest self-replicating program is zero bits long. Perhaps 4’33” is just the null case for music.Report

        • Avatar gingergene says:

          I have a live version where he changed the second-to-last verse to the following:

          and then just when we thought fame would last forever
          along come this band that wasn’t even together
          now that’s alternative
          now that’s alternative to alternative
          i feel stupid
          and contagious

          they’re called Guns ‘n’ Roses

          Which cracks me up every time I hear it.Report

    • Avatar crash says:

      “One of my friends defined music as: “Sounds I like to hear”. It struck me then, and continues to strike me now, as just about the best definition of music I’ve heard, and I would say it well answers the broader question of “What is Art?”: it is stuff I like to look at, hear, do, experience, etc.”

      Hi gingergene: But this isn’t really a good definition. I might like to hear “you’re getting a raise!”; or sounds of passion, but presumably you’d agree those aren’t music. Or maybe you wouldn’t agree: what does “context is everything” mean?Report

      • Avatar gingergene says:

        What I mean by “context is everything” is that something can be music (or Art, more generally) in one setting, but not in another. As I said above, you might respond to “You’re getting a raise” with “That’s music to my ears!” Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Pick a song, or any Art, and I guarantee you that I can find someone who will argue that it isn’t Art or Music or Whatever.

        Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a productive conversation / really good argument about what’s good art, provided we can agree on some ground rules, or at least agree to have the argument about the ground rules. What I don’t think is productive is the idea that some people get to be self-appointed gatekeepers of the Definition of Art (as well as its constant-companion-corollary that said gatekeepers also get to define Good Art and Bad Art). I mean, you can try, but I’m going to need more to grant you that authority than just your say-so; you’re going to need to make an argument about that, too!Report

        • Avatar crash says:

          Yes but when I say “music to my ears” I am speaking metaphorically. I don’t actually think it’s music. Similarly, when there is a song I don’t like, I still think it’s music. I think it’s music I don’t like.

          Even if we found someone who claimed some work (say, some random symphony) wasn’t actually music–I don’t see that means we have to say that it isn’t music. That person could just be wrong.

          I mean, if one billion people agree that the Golden Gate Bridge is a bridge, and one person doesn’t–we just say the one person is mistaken. Why is the word “music” different from “bridge”? (True, I am only talking about easy cases here, things that (almost) everyone agrees are songs/bridges. But I would assume that’s where you start for definitions.)Report

          • Avatar gingergene says:

            I guess what I’m saying is that I think a lot of people define Art in such a way that allows them to exclude things without having to defend that exclusion. I find the question “what is Art” a lot less interesting than “what is Good Art” because I think it does a better job of focusing the discussion on our personal lenses that cause us to see what we see or hear what we hear or feel what we feel.

            Not to pick on @sauldegraw , but look what he did down further: he said Art must be seeking a paycheck or it’s not Art, and inadvertently tossed a ton of people off the roster. Then he realized that he couldn’t defend a definition that excludes Harvey Darger or Emily Dickinson.

            If we start with the idea that Art can be anything and anyone can be an Artist, than if you want to narrow that idea -and I agree, for a good arguments discussion, you have to define your terms- now you have to do it intentionally, and you have to show your work.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      I want to read a treatise on how Thomas Kincade is secretly or subtly subversive!Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I kind of mounted a half-assed uninformed thesis once that Kincade could be seen as little different from respected experimental musicians/producers in certain genres who liberally apply effects to their playing or recording to achieve aggressively-“unreal” artifacts that “glow” sonically.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Keep going…Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            Well, like anything else, a piece can be executed with more or less skill, or to greater or lesser emotional/intellectual effect on audiences (though of course, both of those axes are also measured subjectively). Saul pointed out that JMW Turner pursued a somewhat-similar aesthetic to Kincade, but better-executed.

            I’m definitely more comfortable trying to compare, relatively, two artists engaged in somewhat similar projects than just dismissing (as Saul originally did) Kincade’s work as “unreal” (IIRC, Saul’s specific complaint was that the implied lighting sources of Kincade’s painted images were impossible IRL…but of course, so are unaltered guitars that sound like whalesong; it is pretty much the artist’s job to make us see things in a different light, and from that POV, it seems hard to fault Kincade, artistically).Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              If an impossible light source is sufficient to dismiss works of art, what must such a person say of expressionism, say.

              “But it’s impossible for a fish to have that shape.”Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Right. I’m not saying I’m totally-comfortable with this extreme comparison, but think of all the people to whom Jimi Hendrix’s playing or sound seemed “wrong” or “unnatural”. Yet, he’s now universally-acknowledged for having expanded the boundaries of what was previously thought possible in that medium.

                What makes Kincade intrinsically-different than that, if he’s creating images that are memorable, and original/unusual, and executed with at least some amount of skill and intent?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                But is that subversive or socially critical, or just technically and aesthetically engaging?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Personally it looks like rainbows threw up on 19th century pastorals.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Well, that’s a fair point. I wasn’t really making a point about subversion or social criticism, so if those are indeed necessary to art…

                Then again, I don’t generally have social criticism or subversion as my primary goal in my art consumption; I get those as a side-effect from what I’m really there for, which is emotional and/or intellectual stimulation.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Got me. I mean, I suspect that we could argue that he’s not particularly good on other grounds (repetitive, saccharine, unoriginal in most ways, unlikely to be influential; i.e., the sorts of dimensions on which people tend to criticize art), but “it’s not very realistic” went out the window as a critical dimension a long, long time ago, and even then it was only a valid criterion for a pretty short period of time in the history of art, as far as I can tell.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              And now I have a sudden wish to see a bloated corpse given the Thomas Kincade treatment.

              Memento Mori.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              My complaint about Kincade was that he called himself “The Painter of Light” and trademarked the phrase to describe himself.

              John Ruskin originally coined the phrase painter of light and used it to describe Turner. I was objecting to Kincade’s presumption. Also Kincade’s light is unnatural. Turner’s light is natural, you can actually tell that Turner’s light would exist in nature. Kincade’s light does not. Even when he is painting artificial light, he gets the angles and illuminations wrong.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t know why Kincaid used the “painter of light,” but I know why it was used to describe Turner, and that reason seems to apply even more to Kincaid (and if I were forced to guess, I’d guess that’s why he applied it to himself).

                Like I said, I think his paintings look like pastel rainbow-colored excrement, but that’s just a statement of preference. “His light wasn’t natural” isn’t any more of a critique than mine. It too is just a statement of preference.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Kincaid probably called himself a painter of light because of his subject matter rather than the colors he used.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                In which case, it looks deliberate, right? In which case, a critique of its naturalness probably misses the mark entirely, eh?Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Also Kincade’s light is unnatural. Turner’s light is natural, you can actually tell that Turner’s light would exist in nature. Kincade’s light does not. Even when he is painting artificial light, he gets the angles and illuminations wrong.

                Right, but “natural”, in and of itself, is kind of irrelevant. Art(ifice) is in some ways inherently diametrically-opposed to “natural”.

                I think we are on firmer ground if we talk about how the disregard of physics can damage the illusion that the artist is attempting to create. To some degree, suspension of disbelief is required even when viewing a painting, and if to someone’s eye the seams are distractingly-showing, then the seams are distractingly-showing.Report

      • Avatar gingergene says:

        What’s more subversive than painting bucolic little vignettes with Christian overtones while you assault women, drive drunk, *literally* piss on Winnie-the-Pooh, and then drink yourself to death?Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          So Bill Cosby just became the most subversive American comedian in recent history?Report

          • Avatar gingergene says:

            Hah. You could certainly make that case, which is why I reject this idea that “subversion” is always a Good Thing, or what makes you an Artist. There are some long-cherished human ideals that don’t need to be undermined, IMO.Report

            • Avatar Glyph says:

              Well, I wasn’t taking “subversion” here to mean the contrast of the art to what an artist does outside of their art; I take “subversion” here to mean “ideas or concepts opposed to a currently-dominant paradigm, smuggled in the text or subtext of the art itself.”Report

              • Avatar gingergene says:

                Oh, I know. I was making a joke that obviously didn’t land. (Is that subversive or just bad art?)

                I don’t think Kincade was subversive; I think he was an asshole with a drinking problem who could paint recognizable shapes and figured out how to market himself well. I do think Cosby was subversive in some ways, but not because he raped women while playing Dr. Huxtable on TV.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Drawing pornography in Christian Bibles and then showing it off to elderly women at the bus stop in South Carolina.

          … you go to jail for that.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          What good is an artist if they aren’t tortured & flawed?Report

      • Avatar SaulDegraw says:

        Kincade allegedly once pissed on a statue of Walt Disney at Disneyland and said “This one is for you, Walt!!!”

        That is subversive performance art right there.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      Bingo! An artist is anyone who intends to make art. Art is anything created by an artist. The key here is intent.

      This still allows for some controversy with the folk/outsider artist movement, where it is often not clear if artist intent is present. To accommodate unintentional art we can flip the definition and declare that art is anything intended *by a viewer* to be art, and an artist is anyone who creates or curates such art.

      The difference between art and craft is even more subjective, but I would argue that unlike art, something can be craft without any element of self-expression (e.g. putting together a puzzle and gluing it to a frame, completing a paint-by-numbers, etc.).Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        Is art important?
        Like, worthy of public support e.g. public museums?

        Or is it a private pleasure, having no universal meaning?

        Part of why everyone scrambles to claim the title of artist it seems to me, is that art is still held in high esteem, something elevated and sublime.
        But this assumes a universality to its meaning, doesn’t it?

        This is the heart of my criticism of the modern movement- insisting on personal freedom yet demanding universal acclaim.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          I agree that something should not be acclaimed simply for being art, and the tendency to do is pretty common: the sandwich artists at Subway, or the artisinal bread at Whole Foods for example. But I see artist/art as a value-agnostic definition the same way we can define subsets of art such as writing or music without necessarily stating that they do/don’t have value.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          In the abstract, I would say that art should not be supported by public monies. But, even so, getting rid of public museums is very low on my list of libertarian priorities.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Government-supported art is always a minefield because of the whole issue of whether the government is buying art that otherwise would be unsaleable. (And that’s without getting into the whole Mapplethorpe/Serrano issue.)

            That said, stuff like The Vietnam Memorial Wall is government art (explicitly so) and the best example of what is possible.

            When it comes to the museum issue, it’s fundamentally a problem of who gets to pick the people who get to pick the people who get to pick the curators.

            If you pick the wrong ones, next thing you know, you’ve got a culture war going on because there are so many people out there with rice paper thin skins.Report

            • Avatar Glyph says:

              I think the government should not only financially support art, they should do something about the blatant gouging that’s going on. Do you have any idea what people are charging for an original Picasso?!Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                It’s a bubble. With prices this high, before long the market will be flooded with Picassos, demand will melt away, and prices will drop precipitously. That’s why I have my money in Matisse.Report

  5. Avatar SaulDegraw says:

    1. Yes and no. A big part of Art History is about the emergence of artists from craftsmen and when artists began seeing themselves as artists. I remember reading (maybe in Peter Watson’s history of ideas) that Mozart saw himself as a craftsmen but Bethoven saw himself as an artist who was really doing things in new and bold ways. There was always an academy of conservative artists who gladly took patronage from the conservative elite but there were always artists who wanted to fuck that shit up. We tend to remember the rebels more. The Impressionsts were not accepted by the conservative Paris salon but we remember them more than the heads of the academy at their time. Turner was disliked during his later years but now we see him as a proto-modernists. We like Kadinsky more than Nick ii’s court painter.

    Born Under Saturn is a good book about the emergence of artists as a concept.

    2. There is a tautology here. An artist makes art. The art can be visual, performance, or musical. I do think that to be an artist requires a desire and at least an attempt to make it your primary source of income. Maybe some formal training.

    3. Do the people making such stuff see themselves as artists or as craftspeople? There is a difference.Report

    • Avatar gingergene says:

      If you don’t try to sell your art, you aren’t an artist? Doesn’t that mean that Emily Dickenson wasn’t a poet?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Fair point. There are plenty of private/outsider artists whose works are not appreciated until after they die like Harvey Darger and Emily Dickinson.

        Yet the popular belief that Van Gogh died in absolute obscurity is very much a myth. There were important critics, collectors, and artists who knew what Van Gogh was doing and appreciated it at the time of his death.

        But wouldn’t you say that an actor or someone who considers themselves to be an actor, at least needs to go on an audition every now and then?Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          To make a living as an Actor, I should think yes. To be judged posthumously as a great practitioner of his craft via found video, I would think not. Though the likelihood of recognition would be left solely to chance; and great may be our disappointment at not seeing their work in its fullest complexity.Report

        • Avatar gingergene says:

          No, I would say that in order to be considered an actor, one needs to act. People painting in their basement for their own amazement are also Artists; there’s just a high probability they’re not very good at it.

          Now, we could have a really existential discussion about if an actor acts in a forest and no one sees him, does he make a sound? but I think it might be illegal to have that conversation when you’re sober.Report

          • Avatar SaulDegraw says:

            There are some directors who have done performances like that.Report

          • Avatar Guy says:

            “if an actor acts in a forest and no one sees him”

            Impossible. If the actor is acting, he knows that he is acting, and thus has at least himself for an audience (even if he is blind, or has no mirror).

            Now, the painter who paints alone and then burns all his work, and tosses the ashes into the ocean, all before his wife is home…Report

    • Avatar Autolukos says:

      I’m curious as to how you propose to tell whether “artist” vs. “craftsperson” is a meaningful dichotomy outside of modern Europe.Report

  6. 1. Unequivocally No.
    2. I’ll beg off a full definition, but pertinent to this discussion I’d include in a definition that good art is often Perceptive… These perceptions can be uplifting and reinforcing or subversive of the “swim of society.” Sometimes it is even both in the same work. Requiring art to be subversive is just tedious.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      Is there any traditional Indian art that is good, according to your definition? By far, most if not all traditional Indian art is religious iconography. Any perceptivity requirement is going to consign all traditional religious iconography to mediocrity at best regardless of the actual qualityReport

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        Iconography is among the most perceptive of arts. Among arts where the form is heavily regulated, “perception” in this definition comes out in the subject, the positioning, the symbols, and the layers of meaning.

        That a lot of iconography is the simple manipulation of all of the above does not preclude real artistic perception to emerge in certain pieces. Or must we argue that all potential art is masterful art?Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          Oh, that kind of perceptiveness. But that is not so much perceptiveness as good aesthetic judgment right? Also, I’m doubtful about the layers of meaning thing. Given the tight constraints on how one may present the subject matter, any variations are purely a matter of aesthetic difference. For instance, Radha-Krishna is a traditional subject for a lot of Indian art. There is basically only one or 2 ways to position Radha and Krishna. Facing us, Krishna would be on our left and Radha on our right. Then you may add a swing or bench and perhaps some innocuous background object if you wish. There isn’t much room for social commentary. Any hidden meanings would be so hidden that the artist may very well have not included them.Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine says:

            On the first point, no; but only because I think your second point limits the form to such a degree that if you are correct then all current art is a technical reproduction of the original. In that case, it would seem we are talking about the making of devotional artifacts; the design of which has already been determined. In my opinion, we’re talking two different definitions of Iconography.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              While portraits of Krishna may be used as devotional artifacts, AFAIK no one places Radha-Krishna paintings in their prayer room. Rather, people will use it the same way upper middle class families use a painting from some semi-famous artist: as a decorative object to liven up an otherwise plain wall.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Fair enough, then the terms become twice removed in their usage. But, as you say, reproductions of semi-famous artists would not constitute new art.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                But the Radha-Krishna paintings are not necessarily reproductions of any one given painting. Consider the sort of paintings we call Madonna-and-child paintings. There are certain features that Madonna-and-child paintings have to have in order for it to count as such. For instance, they must depict Mary and they must depict the baby Jesus, and it must be obvious that the figures so depicted are Mary and baby Jesus. Any given Madonna-and-Child painting is not necessarily a reproduction of the original one even if Mary and baby Jesus are posed in the same way as the first Madonna-and-Child painting. That is to say, Madonna-and-Child like Krishna-Yasodha are themes which artists may choose to paint. So is Radha-Krishna. And while the Krishna-Yasodha theme offers about as much flexibility as the Madonna-and-Child, the conventions for Radha-Krishna are just much more rigid. Just as we would not call all Madonna-and-Child paintings technical reproductions of the Original, it does not make sense to call all Yasodha-Krishna or Radha-Krishna paintings technical reproductions of the Original. A big reason for this is that even though there is a first ever painted Madonna-and-Child, Radha-Krishna or Yasodha-Krishna, there is no “Original”.* Given that it is not a technical reproduction of an original, and given that it is not used as a devotional artefact, it seems difficult to classify it as anything other than art. Some instances may be well done, while others may be poorly done. The ones which are well painted can thus be said to be good art.

                *The painting business in Renaissance Italy and modern-day India bear remarkable similarities at the production end. The biggest difference is at the consumption end: Whereas the market in Renaissance Italy consisted of a few select patrons, the market in India is a large and quickly growing upper and upper middle class.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It’s hard to avoid Potter Stewart in these discussions.

    There are a lot of truly great artists who can make us see something that we’ve never seen before, get us to understand it better than we understood it before.

    That said, there is a strange point beyond which attempting to deconstruct a thing results not in a fine analysis of the thing but in destruction of it. Instead of, as my classics professor put it a million years ago, applying heat in order to separate the dross from the gold, the result is slag and ash.

    If I had a complaint about modernity, it’s that it uses too much heat.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      I’m going to pile on with a No as well. Plenty of art is just something that people just find pleasing or engaging, without intending deeper social messages.

      Also, plenty of artists are crap, even, hell especially, if they are not in the swim of society. I’ll even go so far to say that not being in the swim of society hurts an artist, because they will be less able to produce something that conveys the intended message to society. If a sculptor assembles a pile of random items into a sculpture and intends for it to be a symbolization of suffering & corruption, but all most people see is a pile of random items, then the artist has failed. Even if some people can see it (or pretend they can, because signalling), it’s still a failure if the intended meaning is lost on the bulk of society.

      Being in the swim informs an artist how to convey a message.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        One can completely fail at conveying a message and still have good art, honestly.
        There’s some sort of symbolism of flowers going on in probably half the 19th century paintings I’ve seen of them, but If I just like the damn painting, well, that’s good too.

        And people come up with meanings that authors didn’t intend all the time. Sometimes the meanings are fascinating and truly kind of fun. I’d hate to say that the author was Wrong for using dice to choose names. And, really, so what if someone walks away with a meaning you didn’t intend? It’s art — did they have fun, engage with it, all that jazz? If so, grand!

        Besides, half the time the “meaning” (as written in the museum description beside) is simply made up out of whole cloth to be as pretentious as needed to get the museum to buy the piece.

        Or so my friend the artist says. And he’s got a travelling exhibit or two.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        So shakespeare is now a failure because we can’t see half of his intended allusions to political figures of the day?Report

  8. Avatar Autolukos says:

    I’m happy to punt by saying that an artist is a person who creates art (I might be convinced to throw a “habitually” in there). This isn’t very helpful, since we now must define art, but that’s a more interesting conversation to me.Report

  9. Avatar Kim says:

    Hm. Does it still count as music if it’s not designed to be heard by your ears?Report

  10. Avatar LWA says:

    Oscar Gordon: What good is an artist if they aren’t tortured & flayed?


  11. Avatar LWA says:

    I also agree with No, that art-as-subversion is very particular to European/ American Modern sensibilities.

    But it springs from the traditionalist view that art reveals a greater truth of a transcendent reality.

    The modern work that I find wonderful are things that embrace mystery and emotion, that defy our attempts to be didactic or cerebral.

    Its one reason why I refuse to read the artists statements or critical evaluations- they never seem to capture the magic of the work, and deaden it with other agendas.Report

  12. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    My definition of art is as broad as is possible. Roughly, I think that whenever a human being alters his/her environment in some way while making decisions that are based on their emotional or aesthetic impact, it is art.

    And yes, a consequence of this is that I think that freeway interchanges are art, or at least, can be.

    And so I think that statements such as Kliman’s might have a very personal slant and it represents someone’s attempt to police others and define what they do as select and elite, you know, a real artist. It’s kind of like the claim that Joss Whedon isn’t a feminist.

    I would expect someone’s worldview to show up in their art. But Kliman would have art that comes from a worldview that differs from his not be art at all. This strikes me as very privileged, in fact. It’s the sort of thing that people who come from privileged backgrounds say when they start doing art.

    Those people that have to actually worry about making a living are far more cognizant that they need to get paid for the art they do, and that means engaging with a worldview that maybe isn’t quite the same as theirs.

    (I have a daughter in Art school. She does not have this view, but she reports to me of students who do.)Report

  13. Avatar Maribou says:

    I’ve never tried to define art from the objective outside perspective, but I do have a clear understanding of what differentiates art from craft in what I, myself, do. Such a clear idea that it hasn’t changed since 2003, and I will now quote 2003 me.

    “For me, art is about taking risks with what’s being made. So the utterly gorgeous cross-stitch I spent three years upon isn’t art, and the sturdy reliable bookcase i’m eventually going to make (when we have room for such, which means when we have a house) won’t be art. Neither of those two things require anything from me I can’t do, and do well, and if they *did*, well, I could learn how to do it pretty easily, or just concentrate a little harder for that part.
    Art, on the other hand, feels like jumping into the deep end of a pool when you aren’t sure you can swim. So the livejournal icon i spent all of 5 minutes designing the other day was art, albeit not particularly good art in my opinion. If I made a cross-stitch from scratch, no pattern, and just let it take me where it went – yeah, that’d be art too.
    Because if I already know where it’s going when I start, and what I make is almost exclusively the expression of that initial impulse – that’s just craft. Art has to have surprised me in the course of making it.

    Of course, I don’t really mean “just” craft. I’m a lot more pleased with the cross-stitch than I am with the livejournal icon, and I tend to value craft more than art in general, because risk-taking often leads to… well… things that are lame. But I definitely do make the distinction. ”

    And then in response to a question about whether that isn’t ruling out people who have amazing technical facility, I said:
    [It doesn’t have to involve] “*huge* risks. But in the hypothetical case where an artist sat down to say, illustrate a cookbook, and there was *no* point at which they bit their lip and felt some dramatic tension as to how what they were about to try would work out … then yeah, it’s not art, in my opinion. And if they wanna call themselves an *artist*, as opposed to a *tradesperson* (and nothing wrong with the latter), they had best be spending at least part of their time doing stuff that requires them to jump a bit, and not just walk cheerfully along.”Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      PS hahaha 2003 me, you so were never going to make that bookcase. (but good job on all the bookcases we BOUGHT since then :D)Report

    • Avatar gingergene says:

      What do you think we gain from separating Arts from Crafts? I see it most often used to denigrate things that are “only” crafts, so I bristle a little bit at the need some folks have to sort everything into one bucket or the other. I can see using it as an internal motivator (asking yourself if you’ve risked enough, for instance), but when you start to apply it to others’ work, what’s the purpose?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        It… can be used to meaningfully denigrate people who aren’t artists.
        I have seen this done once, mind — and by an art critic whose sense of whimsy is rather legendary (I think you’d find that most things folks call crafts he’d term anything but).

        Chihuly was the craftsman in question.

        There is a distinction between someone who creates art — which founds itself on insight, and someone who is a fine craftsman, but utterly artless.

        But it takes a real art critic to find the mark between craftsman and artist. I do not trust myself to find it — only to know what kind of art I like.Report

        • Avatar gingergene says:

          Honestly, I’m not a fan of Chihuly’s methods- it’s not that I think they aren’t Art, it’s that they aren’t Chihuly’s anymore. He makes vague sketches (you can see examples at his exhibit in Seattle) and someone else makes them. To my eye, the “Chihulys” currently being made are really another glass-artist’s work done in Chihuly’s style.

          He’s similar to Kinkade, IMO, in that he’s been absolutely brilliant in how he markets himself.[1] (I like his work better than Kinkade, but I don’t think he’s done anything new in a long time.)

          [1] If Art is about risk, then Chihuly’s greatest art medium might be business rather than glass. He built a school from nothing and has done tremendous work to increase glass art visibility in the general population, to his own rather large benefit.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            I like your insight there.
            One does have to ask how much creative input an artist needs in order for it still to be theirs. My english teacher in high school disliked Michener because he hired researchers to help with his books. Me? I’m a bit meh about that, but… what do you say about the person with a brilliant idea who hires people to execute it?

            … and if you say that means they aren’t the artist, what does that mean about architects, who don’t build their buildings??Report

            • Avatar gingergene says:

              (1) Researchers give you facts, artists manipulate those facts in service of their art. I don’t see any difference from using a researcher’s work and using any non-primary-source book on a particular topic. In the realm of non-fiction, I think you can have more of a debate, but really there’s tons of non-fiction out there where the author did zero original research. They’re still authors, but most of them probably aren’t very interesting to read, since all they’re doing is rearranging other people’s work. It’s hard to do that and produce a product that’s as good or better than the original (not impossible, which is why I qualify with “most”).

              (2) If an architect doesn’t recognize the craftsmen who execute her work as collaborators (at the very minimum), then not only is she wrong about the nature of architecture, she’s also being an asshole. That said, architectural models are much more detailed than the doodles Chihuly hands off to his poor assistants. As you say, there is a line, and I think I can defend putting Chihuly on the other side of it.

              Where I place the line probably relates to how much detail the originator provides and how involved he is in the creation process. I think in almost all cases, I would consider the executors to be co-artists (sub-artists?).Report