Given the trajectory of this blog, I knew that I was going to have to tackle this philosophical question sometime soon. Interestingly the question also played a starring role in the first two weeks of Visual Arts 150: Contemporary Practice: Theory & Criticism… what I’ve learned from class is that there is no shared answer, only many individual answers, so here’s mine.
In order for something to be art it must:
Be a product of a creative process. This is a subjective principle, and it also introduces a duality, a single object may or may not be considered art depending on the process by which it was made. Additionally a creative process is a many varied thing, some are long, some are short, but they all at some point envelop an idea in the broadest sense of the word (not necessarily a big idea).
Be evocative… maybe it makes you wonder what it is, maybe it makes you contemplate the universe, maybe it makes you uncomfortable, happy or sad, maybe it reminds you of summers past, but it must be able to stir something inside an audience even if it is only simple ambivalence. This is also a subjective principle, what is or isn’t evocative in this broad sense is debatable, and personal.
Have a self-aware audience. If the product was to be viewed, tasted, heard, experienced, the audience must be aware that it is participating in this dynamic. A theatre production that is snuck into everyday life is no longer art, because although lines are scripted and the story is plotted, the audience is unaware that this isn’t just people interacting through the course of daily life.
Be man made. By this I mean not nature, not happenstance, I don’t want to use the word intentional because some artists claim not to know where a piece is going… they just do… Although nature is beautiful, and we can stumble upon beautiful serendipitous moments throughout life, they are not art.