What Is Art Anyway?

In Memory Tree, a documentary about the life and art of Australian artist David Boyd, there is a great exchange between Boyd and fellow artist John Coburn.

John Coburn: What is art? What is it all about? That thing that’s in you and it’s got to come out.

David Boyd: If it doesn’t come out it will blow you up… [Both laugh]

John Coburn: Yeah.

Rod Pattenden, Chairman of The Blake Society, talked to David Rutledge on Encounter about The Blake Prize (Australia’s largest religious art prize):

The Blake Prize represents a territory; it’s a place, or an opportunity, where religion and art come together. So anyone who starts to criticise the Blake in that it’s this, or that, really has to come up against the question: what is religion, after all? And what is art, after all? They’re both speculative areas of cultural life, they’re both going to push the boundaries, by their very nature they’re going to annoy people.

Richard Gill, music director of the Victorian Opera, speaking on Artworks:

I would define art the same way that the author John Carey defines art. And he defines art by saying, ‘A work of art is anything that its maker believes it to be. So if the maker believes it to be a work of art, it is a work of art.’ And I think that’s a really good definition, because it admits everything. What it doesn’t admit to is quality. But I think starting with the idea of ‘this is a work of art’ is actually very encouraging. And so I take that to mean John Carey’s definition to be, for example let’s go to one of my pet hobby horses, music education, where we make music with children. And if a child comes up and says, ‘I think I’ve made an art work. I’ve composed a piece.’ You can say, ‘Yes, indeed you have. Now let’s listen to this piece and what are the differences between your piece and this piece.’ And it may be Bach or Beethoven or Schoenberg or Schubert or anyone. But then you’ve got to weigh in, to say, ‘Okay, so your work of art is like this; Mozart’s work of art is like this. Where are the differences? What do we do next?’

So rather than saying, ‘No, you haven’t made an art work…’ Then you’re telling the child, one, you can’t define art; or you do define art but you don’t really want to tell the child what it is. Whereas you agree, yes it is, you’ve got a starting point.

So in short art is whatever the artist says it is, if not dealt with it is likely cause considerable harm to the artist and it is, by it’s very nature, annoying. You know this definition really works for me…

1 comment… add one
  • works for me as well. never heard it put quite that way before. i know my students find literary art extremely annoying sometimes, lol.

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