Defining Art by What it’s Not

Published Nov. 10th 2009

What is art, you ask? It must be definition day.

But won’t it be easier to define art by what it ISN’T? Perhaps. Actually, probably.

So here’s my take:

1. Art isn’t the thing you hang on your wall to match your sofa.

2. Art isn’t the thing you hang on your wall, that you are sure your friends will approve of because they all have a copy hanging on their walls.

3. And on that note, art isn’t a copy or reproduction of an original piece of art.

4. Art isn’t something featuring the year’s top five “decorator colors”

5. Art isn’t something you made because you think somebody will buy it.

I wish I had a list of inspirational quotes from great artists of the past regarding art. We can see that they knew what it was, because of what they left behind: ART.

And THAT makes me think of the time I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Art Institute in Chicago.

The place was packed with other people all trying to see the paintings as well. You were supposed to be polite, look at the painting, and move on. . . nope. I was rude and I stopped. For a long time I stopped, because the painting required me to look at it for a long time.

That’s art. It makes your eyes not want to leave. It makes you not want to leave.

But realistically, it doesn’t have to be Starry Night, or Luncheon Of The Boating Party, or Young Girl Writing to be art. Even you or I can make something that is truly “art.”

All it needs is to have at least a smidgeon of something that all three of those paintings have—it has to be INTERESTING.

Maybe it matches your sofa, too. That’s OK. If it’s interesting then you can call it art. Your eyes want to look because it’s interesting, not because it matches your sofa.

And maybe it does contain all five of the current year’s top decorator colors—but forget that, if it’s so interesting that you want to look at it all the time, then it’s art.

OK, and one more thing. . . besides being interesting, “art” also has to be real.

There are two kinds of real—there’s “real” as in honest-created-from-the-heart-real AND there’s “real” as in original, not-a-copy, not-a-reproduction.

A poster of Starry Night I can leave. It may be interesting, but it’s just a poster. Starry Night, the original, made me want to stay.

And look some more.

Now that’s art.

For more articles by Karen Cooper, please visit her art blog.

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