Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Continuing the Inquiry

So, I thought it a good time for the second installment in the art inquiry started in November, and one that I had for almost three years with design school students in the classroom. Specifically, what constitutes art?

Ok, now before you shake your head, tell me that question is just too difficult and subjective, and are annoyed that I actually asked it (!), I’ll provide for you the criteria Dutton sets forth. As you’ll see from the list below, some categories deal with aspects of the art, and others deal with the feelings occurring from witnessing and/or otherwise experiencing the art:

  • direct pleasure;
  • skill and virtuosity;
  • style;
  • novelty and creativity;
  • criticism;
  • representation (of real or imaginary experiences in the world);
  • special focus;
  • expressive individuality;
  • emotional saturation; and
  • intellectual challenge.
While I’m not going to further define the above criteria (most of them are self-explanatory), ask yourself how many you consider important when assessing an artwork. I’ll go one step further and ask: when was the last time you tried to determine whether some thing was art?

I am keenly reminded of a conversation I had last summer with a vendor at an art fair associated with an arts and crafts museum. She sold handmade, felted bags. They were beautifully embellished, well-made, and to my eye, art. I told her as much. Her reply, without skipping a beat: “Oh, this isn’t art, it’s craft.” Hmmmm. How might Dutton’s criteria set mucky up the bag lady’s neatly segregated perception?

I would absolutely welcome all your thoughts and comments.

Finally, whether or not you consider it “art,” I leave you with a sneak peak of my next project.

Enjoy – and get out there and create!


  1. What I have a problem with is exactly this clear separation into two (or more) distinct, Aristotelian, yes-no categories. For me, it's more of a continuum, a more-less distinction, a gradual transition between the two. Clear, prototypical examples are easy to classify as art or craft, whereas those "in between" are not so readily classified.

    But then, I have a background in cognitive linguistics, I'm bound to love fuzzy boundaries :)

  2. @heklica: So, given that you knit and crochet, how would classify your finished pieces? I'm willing to listen to the anti-Aristotelian argument(although I'm still a card-carrying fan for other reasons), but we live in a world that needs to place everything into finite categories.

    And, what about Dutton's criteria?

  3. It's a tough one! Especially when you have to assess your own work. I'd say it's more on the craft side, particularly in cases when it's a reproduction of someone else's idea/design/instructions.