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> For a frame of reference, let's stick with the body adornment of tribal
> Your comments make it sound almost as if it is the quality which makes a
> thing a work of art.
Yes, non-material things that go into an object or a concept or an
experience largely determine for me whether I experience it as art. I
don't mean "quality" as in "the GOOD stuff".
> But looking behind the production itself, what is the
> intent of the art?
Ellen Dissanayake argued that the intent behind art is "making special".
That may be a bit of a simplification but it seems to cover the bases.
"Special" could be, as you note below, a form of reaction; the marking or
sharing of a reaction. Also, as noted by you art can be a "product" a
manufactured component of the economy... "if you make it special they will
buy it." "Special" might also have talismanic qualities. That has long
been a component of the history of the tattoo. The tattoo also marks the
wearer as something of a special being... as does, or can, face-painting.
> Why do we study art history and consider tattooing of say, the
> aboriginal people as being art?
Well, yes, some of the best tattoos may have been historical ones. The
aboriginal Celts (part of my lineage) and Maori come immediately to mind.
Still, there are many amazing contemporary tattoos and aboriginal people
worthy of consideration outside of the history tomes.
> Isn't art a product of and reaction to one's culture?
Yes, but products and reactions are not necessarily art. Of coures, it is
possible to frame a definition of art that specifies qualities such as
product or reaction as qualities of art prior to anything else; but I'm
tracing too many lines of thought here.
> Isn't art a way of seeing life through someone elses eyes?
Possibly, and sure, why not? But still, the question of what is art or
what art is seems really to rest on qualities or aspects that are both
necessary qualities (must all art be a way of seeing through someone
else's eyes?) and sufficient qualities (is a vision through the eyes of
another all that is needed to qualify something as art?)
I believe that art has these qualities and more, I'm not sure that these
are the qualities which make them art. I'm not sure about "making special"
for that matter either. It m ay come the closest for me but it is very
general. It may also be, as I originally noted, that questions about how
to define art are ultimately unanswerable ones; not really "meaningful"
questions. That's more of a purely philosophical question more pertinant
to formal philosophers than to art people.
> Yes, the answers to the question "what is art?" are infinite. But that
> still leaves the question of what it is that makes a work... art.
Yes. I agree.
All-in-all, art may not be so much a material thing as it is a concept.
Things which fit our concept of art ARE art; people who make such things
are artists. My concept and your concept may not be neatly in agreement.
My friend over there, may not even have the concept of art but it appears
to me that she has something which sure looks like art to me. What to do?
Do we need to resolve these issues? Or, can we accept things as they are?
The problem for educators continues to be the problem of deciding what to
teach about art and why "it", whatever "it" is, qualifies as something
important within the domain of art. (in this case face-painting) The
easiest way to find an answer, of course, is to ask a standards board or
the administration. Of course, that also seems to pre-suppose that my
friend over there, who has no concept of art, (and yet still seems to do
things with art, things which look like and are sold as art by other
friends, gets left out of the loop. Also left out are those who don't fit
the standards or administrative biases.
The question of whether face-painting does or does not qualify as part of
a k12 art curriculum is more exemplary of the problem we face than it is a
significant problem in its own right. That's what I'm trying to address
We can, as educators, look for authorities to solves such problems for us;
or we can set out to solve them ourselves; and we can even opt to enlist
our students in the exploration of the question if we wish; seek their
help in finding new explanations or definitions with every school term. I
guess I'm tryng to suggest that it may not be important to delimit an
ultimate answer to such questions for now and for all time.
Ultimately we can choose to decide for ourselves or we can decide not to
get involved with the decision on any level. I wouldn't say that either
choice was the "wrong" one.
Just thinking about it
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