“It’s Pretty, but is it Art?” Paul Butzi recently asked on his blog, quoting from an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article is about Dale Chihuly, his art glass and about why the exhibition “Chihuly at the de Young” is inappropriate.
One of the more offensive arguments is that
The word most commonly used by Chihuly-fanciers to describe the works is “beautiful,” a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists.
Paul strongly disagrees, so do I, and on that grounds we could forget the nonsense, but on the other hand it is maybe a good opportunity to reflect a little about three different notions of art:
Art as in “what artists do” is a process of interacting with reality, a process of discovery that is by necessity explorative, experimental, iterative and dynamic. The artifacts may be beautiful to the uninvolved observer or they may be not, and that really is not the question. The question is, whether they connect to the viewers, make them think, make them ask questions, make them dream, involve them in any way. If so, then art is successful. Beauty is a way to that end, but definitely not the only legitimate. I think from the presence or the absence of beauty alone, nothing can be concluded. If it works or if not, that is a guts feeling and it is individual. This is what I feel is True Art.
The second notion, art as an object of trade, has a severe problem with a couple of those properties that I have claimed for true art. The dynamics of exploration tend to produce unpredictable results. Gold is not dynamic, neither are diamonds and, thank God, neither is Van Gogh. That’s the reason why the art market loves two kinds of artists: dead artists and those who are Good as Dead.
A dead artist can’t ever produce anything again, and that keeps prices high and supply restricted. Like big diamonds, huhh?? A dead artist can’t ever say or do anything that decreases his value. Compare this to Steven Demetre Georgiou aka Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam. Someone held a record contract with him and that contract lost value with his turn to Islam, and it again lost value with the partial quotings after 9/11. OK, that is a popular musician, but the point is, no way this could happen with Monet, Picasso, Dalì or Adams.
The other kind of artists is those who are Good as Dead. They don’t change. They behave. At some point of their career they have “found their style”, as the euphemism goes, and now they stick to that, risk nothing, make a living of producing the ever same things in the ever same ways and in restricted quantities.
This is not living art, it is dead art. Most of these things had value at their time, some keep their value, but the artists have ceased to contribute anything original, new or meaningful. It’s repetition for the sake of the market.
Finally we have a third notion of art, and that is the trivialized conception of a de-sensibilized public opinion. Here we mostly find the equation “Art = Beauty”.
The general public does not care much about the process of art, but they do care about emotions. Their emotions. They do feel when they get involved, and beauty is a powerful means to that. So are ugliness and fear, but because the public does not care about the deeper aspects of art, they see it as something pleasurable to be consumed. Only beauty can easily fulfill that role, and thus the equation.
The article about Chihuly is from the elitist perspective of the art marketeer, and it is arrogant and silly, especially the quote about beauty. It’s especially stupid, because art was never only beautiful, even less so before the impressionists. Art was about power, about devotion, about passion, just as True Art is today. What does he mean by “a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists” anyway? Does he see the Impressionists as the last who had a right to claim beauty? Oh dear, they were about truth, not beauty. Some of their images just happen to be beautiful, that’s all.
Now what about Chihuly, you may ask. I didn’t know him before I was pointed to him by Paul’s post. What I see on his site certainly does not particularly involve me, and from my guts I would put him into the category of artists who know how to make a living by virtue of their style. At the end of the day there may be a case against Dale Chihuly’s art, but a plump attack on beauty is certainly the wrong way.
The Song of the Day is “Only Pretty, What A Pity” from the 1968 Lovin’ Spoonful album “Everything Playing“. No lyrics, no video. Sorry.