Art and Craft...
Art Western and Art Alien...
Art Objects and Natural History..
Art Regions and Art Earth...
Art and Antiques...
Art Commercial and Art Fine...
Art and Technology...
What is acceptable as we define Art? In retrospect, it does
In the late 1940’s and 50’s, as the Abstract Expressionists
were emerging in public consciousness, there would have still
been little argument or controversy over questions such as: Where
does art begin and craft end? What constitutes fine art from
less fine art”? Furthermore, does “acculturation”
only apply to Western influence on other cultures?
Fortunately media in the form of art history books, art periodicals,
popular culture magazines such as “Life” and “Look”,
as well as movies and TV, brought to our doors examples of work
by Picasso, Gaugin, all the Modernists, Naive, Ethnographic, et
al, and we could begin to realize the influences of one artist
upon another and other cultures upon Western culture. Today
it is more difficult to determine what is exclusively Western
or Eastern or Primitive, and we have “expanded the bounds”
of what constitutes an art object. Upon observation we must
question where Regionalism has gone, and some consider even if
Art is inherent in Nature, aside from Humankind?
Are there any distinct edges to what once were considered separate
‘disciplines’ like sociology, art history, folk culture,
primitive art, technology and mathematics? Can any human
pursuit rise to the level of an art form, and do we recognize
that areas of human activity and interest indeed blend together...erasing
barriers and arbitrary distinctions? Where do terms and activities
rigidly interface or smoothly integrate?
Art and Craft?
An expanding blur exists at the boundaries here...a storage cabinet
or table can also be a sculpture. Any object that is useful,
if created with more than simple utilitarian intent, can also
meet the broadening definition of art. But even the simple
shapes of utilitarian objects can be recognized to have beauty
whether arisen from conscious or unconscious motivations. Traditional
craft materials of ceramics, cloth and wood have melded with paint
and bronze to produce extraordinary art objects. We also
must make note of the creative area of architecture becoming sculpture,
landscape design blending with earth and crop art, window display
as art installations, modern stage design by visual artists, avant
gard performance art’s kinship with traditional stage performance,
even calligraphy and flower arranging already established as respected
art in the Orient. Boundaries shift and blend and disintegrate.
Art Western and Art Alien?
Maybe the 19th Century was the last century in which we could
see a clear distinction in the places displaying ethnographic
art, when most art of indigenous peoples was being seen exclusively
in Natural History museums. During the 20th Century fine
Western art museums began accepting objects from other once exotic
places...Africa, South America, New Guinea, etc., and setting
them right alongside of clearly traditionally defined Western
art objects. This may have had to do with the fact that at
some point in the 20th Century contemporary artists found motivation
from more exotic cultures, not always openly acknowledging influences
from outside Western traditions. Numerous books have been
written about the association and digestion of aboriginal art
into Western art. Indeed...what was once “acculturation”
can now be seen in a positive light, as acculturation has become
for many a positive two way street.
Art Objects and Natural History?
A study of traditional Oriental art of China, Japan or Korea,
would result in the appearance of revered objects which were shaped
exclusively by natural forces. These might be large or small
stones, objects from the plant or animal kingdoms, or some other
mineral or organic objects that attract the attention of the Human
species. These objects were recognized as being aesthetically
pleasing, beautiful and/or interesting to the human eye, and they
have been displayed in the same manner as a fine piece of porcelain
or pottery or painting.
Also today, in international sales rooms, objects from mineral
and fossil kingdoms appear for sale, sometimes labeled in a manner
alluding to their being art objects from the Natural World. Perhaps,
merely by the recognition, selection and appreciation by humankind
these naturally derived objects are elevated to the realm of fine
art? Natural objects can have deep motive power to the human
eye...whether the antlers of deer in traditional European decoration,
some curious stones from a Native American medicine bundle, or
the animal hide coat of an African native hunter. Who can
argue persuasively that taxidermy is not an art form...or the
inclusion of once living remains in an art work makes it less
artful. If we include a bone or hide or antler, why not the
To go along with the ramifications of viewing natural objects
as akin to art objects, the techniques and means of display of
such items in museums manifest in arrangements and assemblages
that unquestionably are art. Display cases, panoramas, lighting
and associated sculpture or painting or vegetation...all art. There
are even some humans willing to discuss the notion that non-human
animals may be able to produce art objects.
Art Regions and Art Earth?
Once US physical geographical topography and climate could define
regions in which distinct art styles/methods/themes could be distinguished. Midwest
regionalism including rural themes of an expansive countryside,
during the 20’s - 40’s jumps to mind. Since the
1950s education and media have generally erased those borders. Today
the artist of Madison, WI, or the artist from California might
only be recognized by looking at gallery labels. And while
it is easier to distinguish the art of the World’s nations
one from the other, there are huge cultural overlaps due to the
exchange of visual, philosophical and other cultural information. Despite
territorial and tribal enclaves still displaying hardened attitudes
of isolated places and cultures, the 20th Century has seen the
World become much more a culturally unified place than ever before. The
days of islands with isolated intellectual genetic material are
Art and Antiques?
There are some phrases which have emerged in the antique collecting/dealing
field during the last few of decades of the 20th Century. “Interesting
paint history”, meaning the exposure of several layers of
paint due to weathering and use, with recognition that the evolutionary
process (E.G. distress) has made the antique more visually appealing
and precious...this recognition and selection being part of the
creative process. “Make do pieces”, that is furniture
and utilitarian objects made from recycled material, or something
cobbled together with curious artful result. “Memory
pieces”, usually small decorative pieces and furniture having
an attached layer of objects which might be of mnemonic significance
or sentimental nature. “Folk and Outsider art”,
varied objects produced by the common public (folk), and by individual
and peculiar personalities, these things displayed in antique
shops as well as fine art galleries. “Limited
issue and popular culture collectibles” including objects
of recent manufacture within the bubbling contemporary marketplace,
often having some suggested artistic derivation and precious nature...e.g.
comic book art, cels from cartoon movies, designer pieces, limited
Antiques of any decade or century are often the commonplace and/or
commercial pop culture objects of earlier generations. When
later looked at with more objective eyes these objects can provoke
new responses, definitions and meanings. The original contexts
are lost, and can only be reconstructed thru research and imagination...and
then some are elevated to the status of art objects.
Art Commercial and Art Fine?
Consider that very fuzzy border between commercial art and fine
art? Consider such phenomena as the appreciation and collecting
of Currier and Ives lithographs; Maxfield Parrish commercially
mass produced prints; upward evaluation of Art Nouveau and Art
Deco advertising posters; the Warhol, Oldenburg and Red Groom
Pop Art of the second half of last century celebrating objects
from mass popular culture. Consider further the designers
of automobiles and vacuum cleaners with results that appeal to
more than utilitarian need; the beauty and skill recognized in
illustration; sideshow banners, colorful and direct; the decoration
of the human body from clothing design to tattooing. Designers
and some persons once not considered fine artists have
used their ideas and skill to elevate the shapes and appearance
of automobiles, clothes irons, radios, record album covers, clothing,
etc., into the realm of fine art.
Art and Technology?
Once art making was a hand done process, with image and object-making
an activity requiring the fingers and skin to touch pencil and
brush, chisel and clay. It can still be that. The Arts
and Crafts movement of the 19th Century was a revival of Mediaeval
and Renaissance techniques, with attempts to recreate guilds and
philosophies of the hand made. It was in part a reaction
to the introduction of machines in manufacture of furniture and
textiles and imagery during the first half of the 19th Century. But
at the time there were many who celebrated the machine.
The 20th Century has witnessed the overwhelming use of technology
in production of all sorts of art and objects, sometimes by designers
of utilitarian objects, and often to generate what are acceptable
art objects. We have moved thru the handmade, to mass produced
prints, to photography, and the computer, television monitor and
diode have become tools for artists. Today, if Humankind
invents or discovers something new, it can become useful as a
means of expression for the questing and questioning artist.
Good or Bad, Right or Wrong?
In the grandest human arenas, it is fairly easy to make judgments
of what is right or wrong. We universally recognize that
killing one’s fellow humans is wrong, imposing inhumane
conditions on fellow humans is wrong, encouraging Liberty and
having the freedom to pursue individual lifestyles is right, assisting
those in need is right. Of course, interpreting right and
wrong varies from country to country and individual to individual. In
witnessing the response of some countries to forms of government,
Capitalism, Communism, Dictatorship, it is clear that the transfer
of idea from one person to another and region to region might
be considered subversive...a means of influencing behavior toward
negative political and social ends. Even art can have substantial
political import, as has been witnessed at various times in various
While I’m sure the Afghan Taliban and Communist Chinese
would not want this article to be disseminated in those countries,
we here reading this in America is in far different conditions. We
can individually define Art, determine what it can embrace, set
boundaries of our own, and give it some important meaning in our
personal lives. We are supposed to have the freedom to express
political observation and belief as well as to explore our individuality.
This freedom of expression, and the right to nibble away at edges,
is what may draw many of us to the use of Art in our lives. You
and I can delight in new personal discoveries, in eliminating
boundaries and combining meanings. Art expression gives us
the opportunity and means to expand our minds, to find satisfaction,
to release emotions...to ground ourselves...and maybe take a few
others with us.
Sometimes that blurry edge is just what we need in order to see
things more clearly.
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