Sunday, 12 May 2013

What is art?

A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me why I was reading the Hunger Games trilogy again when there are other better books I could read. This was not an offensive comment, my friend is far from being the offensive type; she is a bookworm, a book-eater, a literature lover, and probably one of the most intelligent literature expert I know, and I am absolutely sure she only wanted to share with me the joy she feels when she explores and deepens in the vast literature universe out there. I'm also sure, though, 'literature' has different meanings for both of us.

When I was eighteen, I was asked by a professor in university what 'literature' is. I answered "literature is something writers use to help us forget our problems for a while". My professor said I was wrong, he actually laughed at me. But I was not wrong because literature was precisely that for me. I had been a little too worried about some matters for a few years and found my particular haven in reading and writing. I was not wrong, my professor had only asked the wrong question. He probably meant how is literature related to art or how can literature be art, which leads me to the key question: What is art?

I guess anything becomes art when its author creates it trying to evoke a specific feeling in the... let's call it enjoyer of that particular piece of art. I also guess the author will be a bad artist if s/he fails to evoke those feelings. Does that make all sculptors bad artists because I just don't understand/like sculpture? Does that make Van Gogh a fail artist because I don't feel absolutely anything when I look at his paintings? We've all seen those stupid experiments of paintings made by three-year-old children shown in exhibitions and people saying those paintings clearly reflect the anger and the sexual repression of their author. Does that make those children artists? Art cannot (only) be about evoking feelings in the enjoyer.

Let's try again: art is what experts say is art. If experts judge quality, how can a black spot on a white canvas can be good quality? I can do that with a flyswatter on a wall and I think it'll be of better quality because I used organic, biodegradable materials. Experts have observed, researched and analysed hundreds, even thousands of pieces and have developed amazing skills that allow them to spot a good piece of art in a second and support their claims with logical and well-based reasoning. No doubt about that. But the average human being may not understand a word they say and just remember they said that piece 'IS ART'. Does that mean we have to like all they consider a piece of art just because they say so? Well, I don't know about you but I definitely won't. And this leads me to another point: what is good/bad vs. what we like/don't like.

Third try: Art is what people like. NO, NO, NO. I just HATE it when I hear people say something is bad when they mean they don't like it. Confusing those two terms is not something I'd leave without punishment. I know Van Gogh's work is extraordinary, I just don't like it. I know Harry & The Potters are horrible musicians but I have so much fun with their songs I love listening to their music. The one confusing quality with liking only shows how uneducated s/he is.

Going back to the original question 'what is art?', my answer is: I don't really know but I don't really care either. I just know I enjoy reading good and not so good literature; that even if it's supposed to be amazing, if I don't like it, I CANNOT read it, and I WON'T do so. I know that I don't usually enjoy painting but when it comes to William Turner or Caspar Friedrich, I literally cry when I see their work because they fill me with a strange sort of joy that is so hard to describe and I can't help weeping. I know that the kind of art I enjoy the most is music, any kind of music, and even I know nothing about reading or writing music, nor even I play any instrument, I allow myself to judge songs as good or bad pieces... And my degree of Stendhal syndrome increases to the highest levels when I enjoy music. A friend of mine freaked out when I burst into tears while listening him playing Brian Boru's March with a tin whistle.

Basically, I'd divide people's opinions on art into different branches: 1) what experts say, 2) what one likes, 3) what people as a group generally like/ the commercial, entertaining industry, 4) what is functional or practical... Which I'd say is also some kind of art. In my case, I mainly focus on the second one, that's probably why I'm re-reading the Hunger Games trilogy.

Anyways, what I mean is that not knowing exactly what art in general is, or literature in particular means, I read what I like regardless of its quality because I leave the exploring and judging to the experts. But suggestions are always very welcome.


  1. I am very happy to be the first comment of your new blog! I hope you keep writing because you have a unique way of doing it, I like your art, Zara! :)

    oh boy! thank you for your compliments, you are very kind and I actually miss those days when we used to talk about these things at Uni!! btw! I would have never imagined that that comment would trigger such deep thoughts! but I am very happy that you cared to write them down and shared them with us :):) In a way, I agree with your way of thinking. I think that art can never be art because experts say so, or because we either like it or dislike it. I'm like you, certain things that other people would not consider art touch my soul, and some other things considered high art are so void of meaning to me that I would like to punch the artist in the face XD So, I guess that art is in fact, a very subjective thing. In other words, I'd say that art is what evokes something in us, something that awakens something in us that we didn't have before, any thing that really captures our soul and makes us weep as you said. Here's a quote by Neil Gaiman, who I think is a great artist but certain old fashioned experts don't even care to take seriously... let's make good art!

    “Remember, whatever discipline you’re in, whether you’re a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer — whatever you do, you have one thing that’s unique: You have the ability to make art."

    1. You've always liked my way of writing and encouraged me to keep on doing it and, coming from you, that means a lot. Thanks so much!!!!