A Sense of Art

[email protected]

In response to the debate begun by the Physics Club, I have this question to ask. Have you ever heard someone say “Anything can be art”? This is sometimes said after one criticizes the hideously warped metal structures outside of corporate buildings. There are two rules to remember when it comes to art: (1) It’s ok to be elitist when judging so-called works of art, and (2) never forget the importance of craftsmanship.

Relatively speaking, very few man-made objects deserve to be called Art (keeping in mind that there are probably billions of pieces out there being created). For example, I have been drawing pencil sketches of portraits for years. I often print out a full-size copy of the photograph, trace very lightly where the eyes, nose, and ears are supposed to go, and then I shade it according to how I perceive the shadows to have fallen in the picture. I’m good at it and people often tell me that I have a rare talent. They would be shocked to find that although I claim to have artistic ability, I dont consider my drawings art.

So what is Art? Ayn Rand said it best: “Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments.” Whoa, what the hell does that mean? Basically, an artist must create something that re-presents reality in some way that is consistent with a judgment that he or she attaches to a value such as love. Whether it is a painting, statue, poem, or song, it must represent a judgment of a value (i.e. “Man is a hero” or “Love heals” or “Life is ultimately meaningless”). The painting or poem is a vessel that conveys the importance or the realization of this judgment.

So what is craft? Craft is basically everything else that goes into an “artistic” pursuit (Note: my sketches, while not qualifying as Art, can still be deemed ‘artistic’ in that they present an ability that I have. This ability would allow for me to craft pieces that represent a judgment and thus contain artistic value). I would consider myself a good craftsman rather than a good Artist if I were to judge on the sole basis of my sketches. My hand and my eyes work well to draw the lines and to create shades that blend to form a face. There is little to no creativity involved. I am not expressing what I think about the face or what it means to me. I am simply recreating it using skill. This is akin to building a motor or a birdhouse. All craft, no Art.

But Art requires skillful craft in order to be good. Good Art, the kind that deserves to be in museums, is that which selectively recreates reality in a profoundly meaningful way and which presents the skill of the artist at its peak.

Any person who randomly places paint or material objects in meaningless configurations and then hangs them up for all to see does not deserve to be called an artist. Usually these people aren’t even good craftsmen. Most of the time, they only succeed in the steady production of Crap (e.g. an object that purports to be art yet is lacking in artistic value and fails to display good craftsmanship).