What is real art?

In most aspects of life, there is room for interpretation. This is perhaps most prevalent in the world of 'art'.

With such freedom for expression, we can explore various genres and mediums of the arts and find something that seemingly speaks directly to us and nobody else. Our subjective interpretation has a "brainasm" every time we dissect a work of art and, for example, watch a movie in which blue curtains featured heavily. "They were to symbolise the character's depression and despondence." A film theorist would quoth. As if the actor could not do their one job and portray that already. But perhaps the curtains are just blue. Because it's aesthetically pleasing and the art department happened to have them lying around.

An old-school mind may instinctively think of an oil painting on a white wall. A practising artist may suddenly note the scent of turpentine on the air and the overwhelming sense that there is still clay under their fingernails.

When it comes to art as an objective concept, the vast population can be sharply divided on what is and is not 'art'.

With the practice and mediums of what is classified as artistic, being as diverse as the minds that work with it, we are reminded to refresh our understanding of art and what it takes for a work to start out as a Rembrandt masterpiece in the 1600s and wind up in the present day as a meme on Facebook, complete with a bleak nihilist caption.

In May of 2016, a couple of teenagers trolled the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, by placing a pair of spectacles by the wall. The open-minded patronage of the museum knelt down by the frames and pondered them in academic awe, deriving theoretical genius from this simplistic and deeply meaningful masterpiece.

It was a masterpiece, right? It was in a museum, wasn't it? Therefore it had to be more than meets the eye. Or was that the intention of the artist all along?

"Art is more than what meets the eye. I leave my spectacles behind, so you may see art through my eyes". There you have it, something is created out of nothing. I pulled that right out of my proverbial. Now it is art.

And though this was made possible with a little tongue-in-cheek humour and an open mind to think of art as more than just pretty pictures, one can still take into account that in May 1916, Claude Monet was unveiling two more intricate pieces for his Water Lilies series. And this is still considered great art.

The role of the artist is to deliver an indication of their view of a subject, as framed and interpreted by their 'artistic eye'. Despite how famously abstract his work is, Pablo Picasso was undoubtedly taught to paint people in likeness and with correct proportions. But that renegade artist within him rejected the mainstream and sought to carve out an individuality, which all great artistes are encouraged to do.

So when one considers Ken Done and how his work is often compared to the etchings of a preschooler, the old adage to help an artist grapple with foreshortening; 'paint exactly what you see and the mind will make sense of it,' extends to the artist's eye more than the optical one.

The thing is, an audience generally looks at a work of art (a movie, a dance, a drawing) with a critical eye. I like to encourage people to use the ratio of two positives for every negative when giving feedback. And start with a positive. Even if you have to make it up, but most certainly if you can back it up. An artist did not exhibit their work to be criticised. I do not know many artists who do not hesitate to show their work, especially when they're starting out or learning a new technique. While nobody wants to build up talent where there is none, a balanced feedback can be as simple as, 'I'm impressed you tried it, I don't like any part of what you've done, but I look forward to seeing you continue so that my opinion may change as you improve.'

After the artist interprets and depicts their view as an intended art form, the next step is for it to be met with an audience. That's when things get contextualized all over again and here is where the art happens.

An artist can see art in the ordinary and the purpose of their work ought to impart that same magical filter onto the eyes of the responder, the audience.

With Vivid being such an attraction around Sydney, something as simple as a light display on landmarks brings people out into the night air for extended periods to gaze up to the bright colours and sounds for entertainment. The art museums are one of the many backdrops, rather than the container of art. Yet this may still not be artistic and challenging enough to the academics.

This is the visually artistic equivalent of bubblegum pop music to the ears of a classical musician, who sneers at a repetitive three-chord structure interspersed with na-na-na-na's.

The bubblegum pop is catchy and gets you bopping in your car at a red light, making the drivers next to you point and giggle, but it's no stirring symphony ending with actual cannons firing.

With all this mind, one could conclude that 'art' is whatever gets the responder to notice, to react, to feel, to be challenged and to question their own thinking.

The glasses prank did prove to be art, as it stirred conversation and challenged viewpoints with a stark observation of how gullible people can be by manipulative artists. Which was the point, apparently.

The transgressive artist is the one who will push the limits and continue to have more people discussing the Mona Lisa because she is depicted as a nude, drawn only using pancake batter for a viral video than for her current exhibition at the Louvre, where she's been for centuries.

Art is now accessible, attainable and, above all, extremely possible for everyone. 



Sarah Long