<H2 ALIGN="center">Why is it Art or How did this <I>Thing</I>
get on the Museum Wall?</H2><H3 ALIGN="CENTER">Hal Turk's version</H3>
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<H3 ALIGN="LEFT"><FONT COLOR="#800040">The question</FONT></H3>
<P>Art is an imprecise concept and cannot be specifically defined. So how do we docents
answer this question when it arises during our tours? Perhaps we can list some of the
criteria of "Art" that will help us stimulate a discussion with the sometimes skeptical
touring public and approximate an answer.
<H3><FONT COLOR="#800040">To docents</FONT></H3>
<P>I asked this question of several SJMA docents. Docents could not give a precise answer.
However the replies focused on the general concept of expression/communication. There
are at least two components to a definition of art on which the docents agreed. They are:
<LI>An idea skillfully reduced to a work of some sort
<LI>A viewer's perception of the idea as communicated in the work.
<H3><FONT COLOR="#800040">To the Internet</FONT></H3>
<P>A brief Internet search for an answer to this question revealed the several views listed
below with references to their Internet locations i.e. URLs.
attempt to define Art.</a> This may lead to the what and the why.
continuation of the above</a>
interesting ideas about when it is and when it might not be.</a>
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<H3><FONT COLOR="#800040">To artists through the literature</FONT></H3>
<P>Artists are a taciturn lot but several have expressed themselves in the literature.
Robert Henri<a href="#Henri"><b><sup> 1</sup></b></a>stated "the artist
is an astute observer who expresses an idea in a material form such as painting,
sculpture, architecture or in new forms as they evolve." A modern evolution
certainly would be video art and computer-generated art. Paul Cezanne <SUP><a href="#Chipp"><b>2</b></a></SUP>
saw Art as "a personal perception, a vision for one's self which intelligence
organizes into a Work." Cezanne implies in this article that breaking out of
old formalism when the artist's intelligence requires such action is necessary.
<P>Both ideas of art and art making seem to confirm the docent's view of art as an idea
reduced by intelligence to a work that makes a personal impression on a viewer. The
Artist's intelligence is shaped by his/her environment, cultural values, education and the
art world as well as knowledge of materials used to make works. The viewer's ability to
perceive the ideas behind the work is shaped by a much larger set of visual criteria
which may even exclude ideas central to the artist's intelligence. Pop culture, TV,
cinema, magazines, poor exposure to art history etc may narrow the scope of work that
will interest many viewers.
<P>How then are we to know "why is it art" when both the artist and the public may have
quite different objectives in their approach to art? One thing that we as docents, the
interface between these disparate groups, can do is try to help the museum going public
arrive at a broader understanding and heightened perception of art. We can frame the
discussion with those concepts that our training and experience have shown narrow the
gap between Artist and observer. Such a list might include the following ideas:
<LI>Was there an idea perceived from the work that stimulates a feeling or sensation in the
<LI>There should be some aspect of the work such as purpose, place in history,
novelty, style or iconography that creates a reaction.
<IMG SRC="dekooningwomanand2.jpg" WIDTH="99" HEIGHT="157"ALIGN="LEFT" HSPACE="30" BORDER="15" ALT="Dekooning - Woman and Bicycle">
<LI>The artist may abstract reality in a work so that the viewer must use his/her
intuition and sensitivity to interact with the work.
<LI>Is there a new expressive means, new formalism, that allows the viewer to see the
World in a unique way?
<LI>There may be social comment that enlightens, pleases or horrifies the viewer.
<LI>Are there aspects of the work that show the subconscious at work in both the
Artist and the viewer?
<LI>There may be skills with materials used in the work that appeal to the viewer.
<LI>Is there humor, nostalgia, pathos, anger or beauty expressed in the work?
<LI>May not a mood created by the work help the viewer into a meditative state
of mind in the Buddhist sense?
<P>No answers have been presented to tell us why a work is art. However a list of fairly
broad criteria has been presented to frame a discussion of the question. Good luck.
<H3><FONT COLOR="#800040">Bibliography </FONT> </H3>
<LI><A NAME="Henri"></a>Henri R., The Art Spirit, Harper and Row, 1984
<LI><a name="Chipp"></a>Chipp H., Theories of Modern Art, U. of California Press,