Thoughts, Ideas, Observations

Time to Abolish Art?

I think it may be time to abolish "Art" as a category.  I decided this after listening to a rather long and tedious debate about whether a crucifix soaked in urine could be art.  Now, I ask you, could any argument possibly be stupider?

What exactly is art, anyway?  Off the top of my head I can't think of any important word with less in the way of meaning.  As Duchamp showed a long time ago, what makes an object "art" is not anything about the object itself, but how we choose to look at it.  It follows, therefore, that you are an artist if you can convince somebody else to treat what you do as art.  What you do can be absolutely anything at all.  Since the title "artist" is, in certain circles, the highest accolade an ambitious person can receive, hordes of people now strive to be honored with this form of address.  What you actually produce is, as we said, immaterial to the business of art, so it makes no sense to achieve this title through long hours in the studio.  Instead, you might try posing with long scarves, hanging out in cool cafés, wearing outrageous clothes to gallery openings, and the like.  Be sure to get videotaped as often as possible, preferably doing something that makes no sense.

If you are good enough at this, you can find fame and fortune; hey, it worked for Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.  Could either of them actually do anything that would have passed for "art" before 1895?  Draw?  Sing?  Whittle?  Not that I know of.  I don't mean to single them out, or even to imply that what they did has no value.  I just don't see what is gained by lumping their productions into the same category as Rembrandt paintings or Celtic jewelry.  Now that "art" can be anything, and anyone can call himself an artist, the words tell us nothing about the world but are simply labels sought by the self-important.

So, I say, let's just get rid of them.  Let's just call people by what they actually do, using words like stonecarver, potter, or metalsmith.  Art Museums could become "Galleries of Painting and Sculpture," or words to that effect; people who do strange things with camcorders would become "videographers;" makers of jewelry could be "artisans."  There would be a problem with "painters," who understandably want a word that tells people they don't cover houses with latex, but no doubt we could borrow something from Italian or another stylish language. 

People who drop crucifixes into plastic buckets of piss or encase cow parts in lucite would also need a new title; I suggest "clowns."

John Bedell

February 15, 2001

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Time to Abolish Art?