Jan 212008

I might be better off posting a picture, since it’d be worth a thousand words, but I’ll try to do this the good ol’ fashioned way (even though pictures may well predate verbal language).

Anyhoo, I think a lot of people get confused when they see something like a dot on a canvas. Or a swath of one colour. The natural question that arises in most people’s minds is, “Is this really art?”

Art, for most people, equals aesthetic appeal. So something that looks pretty is artistic. However, around the turn of the last century art changed. Instead of trying to represent the world as realistically possible (such as the works of Da Vinci and Michaelangelo), the rise of photography made artists and critics question what art is. A variety of answers emerged. One of them was the idea that the art is not just the piece of art itself, but that there is a relationship between the art piece, the artist and the person who views the art.

A good rundown of a part of this is Ze Frank’s episode. One other thing, we feel better being on the trail of something we want, rather than if we had what we wanted. Its a difference between incentive motivation and consumptive motivation. This helps explain those people who are constantly after more money, or who accumulate a lot of stuff and realize that having this stuff isn’t really what they wanted. Its also an important part of the “flow state”, which is considered the optimum state of being, and its not lying in the sun on the beach day in and day out, its being totally engaged in something so interesting that you just lose sense of yourself.

Recognition of this broader relationship is recognition of making the processes of art more conscious to both the artist and the general audience of the piece. This leads to art become more self-reflexive, and designed to make you think about art itself. So, instead of art trying to represent the world, it moves towards trying to represent art, and to open debate about the art piece itself and make you question what you think of as art. For example, a dot on a canvas has already made you think about why it is considered art, and it might raise further questions about why an artist might create that, or a curator might hang that on their wall, and so on.

As an example, I think Stanley Milgram’s experiments are artistic. Milgram did a number of important experiments in social psychology. One of the key ones (if you take Introductory Psychology, you’ll hear about it) is his experiment on obedience. You can find a short video about it here. This helped explain how regular, normal people can take up arms and commit suicide, or genocide. If art is supposed to reveal something about ourselves to ourselves, then I don’t see why Milgram’s landmark experiments can’t be considered art. The creativity of his experiments is also amazing.

Main Points:

  • Art became more self-conscious and self-reflexive around the turn of the last century. That means that art is supposed to get you to think about what makes art, art, and the process of creating art.

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