Beautiful…but is it art?

Beautiful…but is it art?

Montserrat College is offering a chance for their students to go down to NY to see The Gates  in Central Park. All of the pictures I’ve seen of this installation are beautiful. I love the images of these bright saffron sails billowing in Central Park. I love Central Park. I almost have to go every time I’m in the city. A beautiful wild place in the heart of Manhattan, a magic kingdom, a charmed island. Every city should have such a space. And these gates are charming. Created specifically for this space, they will be destroyed, recycled after the exhibit is over. They are designed to be there and nowhere else.

Christos like most “modern artists” (I’m not sure how he labels himself, but for lack of a better term I’ll call him modern) challenges the traditional categories. And the previous installations I’ve heard about sound silly. He’s the one who did the giant umbrellas a few years ago, one of which blew over and killed someone. In general in the abstract I would say that these kind of stunts are not truly art. But that begs the question: what is art? How do we define it, how do we label something as art or not.

So much so-called modern/ post-modern/ contemporary art strikes me as so much rubbish. Narcissistic at best, nihilistic at worst. When we have lost a sense of the transcendant, when art ceases to be an expression of our yearning for God, then I think it becomes something less.

I supose a good starting place would be the Greeks, who called art poesis: making. So much of what passes for art is not really making. Marcel Duchamps’ urinal for example: definitely not art. He has made nothing new. But these Gates are made: wooden structures erected, fabric cut and sewn and hung, and all arranged carefully planned to line the walkways of the park in an elaborated looping circuit.

But I wonder if sometimes we say: “That isn’t art” when what we really mean is it isn’t good art. Well then I guess we must try to distinguish between good art and bad art. I think there is definitely more at work than a simple matter of taste in this definition. Certainly we can judge whether something is exectued well or whether it is shabby. Some modern “art” falls through the cracks here. There is no craft, no workmanship to it. But I’m not sure I can set forth a general criteria. They may have to be established within particular genres.

So much of “art” is now “self expression.” But any person can express themselves. Even baby Joshua can express his happiness by smiling and cooing his unhappiness by crying and writhing. It isn’t very well crafted and often his unhappy message is unclear: is he hungry, sleepy, or uncomfortable sitting in a wet diaper. Does art have to do more than merely communicate or do we praise those as artists who have achieved a certain measure of excellence in the various means of communication? But I think what is most important is that they have something meaningful to convey. But is the excellence in art, only in the message? It surely must also be in the means of delivery.

Oscar Wilde said “all art is quite useless” that certainly seems to be one modernist criteria, if it is good for nothing then it must be art.

I’m not sure if the means and method of the piece can lead me to make a final determination. I think that finally telos is important: To what end does this piece lead the audience?
I don’t think this is exclusively a Christian viewpoint. The Greeks too felt that art came from the gods, the whole idea of a muse, inspiration points to a supernatural means as well as a supernatural end to art. The purpose of good art was to help men be more in line with the supernatural order of the cosmos. Art should make us remember that we are made in imago dei and are not mere talking beasts.

Does art have to be representational? Certainly music is not. But is that a necessary criteria for the visual arts as opposed to the performing arts? Can abstract pieces be art?

When I was at The Met I sat for a long time in front of an enormous Jackson Pollock painting, captivated by the swilrs of color, the textures, the sense of motion of rhythm. A musical quality.

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