Art is...

I’m doing a presentation at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art this week and, in an effort to generate interest, I posted a draft of my presentation online. In my presentation, I’m dealing with digital art, what it is, what it isn’t and the surrounding issues. Of course, one of the first things any opinionator needs to do is to define their terms. In this case, that means defining, most importantly Art. One visitor responded and suggested we have a talk about fractals as art. I seconded my original opinion that fractals, like the programming that spawns them, isn’t art. So, the question comes up, according to Pat, what is Art?

So, as I point of reference, here’s my summary opinion on what constitutes Art. I extrapolated these statements based on an interpretation of Aristotle’s Poetics. Those principles were authored to deal with poetry, which Aristotle considered the only true art. According to some, his idea of poetry was the poetic narrative that was authored for Greek plays. I believe the principles he articulated are easily translated into concepts that apply directly to contemporary visual art.

Most anything created with intention has at least one of these attributes but, in my conception, the more of these concepts the artist deals with in any given work, the more artistic it is.

RHYTHM (movement)— Rhythm means that the elements in a piece prompt visual movement at an understandable progression and regression of how the eye travels, resulting in the viewer’s eyes flowing back and forth in appropriate sequence with the piece.

LANGUAGE (message)—Language means that the piece contains forms that convey message and feeling, the language may be literal, using words or it may be musical but, for us, the most important form is visual language.

HARMONY (agreement)—Harmony means that the discrete forms in the piece have convergent and divergent rhythms and use the language of movement and message to contrast and complement each other.

OBJECT (focus)—The object is the primary element (the focal point) of the artistic piece. It’s what the piece is about, whether that be a naturally existing object, a feeling, a story, an internal structure or other recognizable entity. The object originates in the natural world and is interpreted by the artist. This interpretation is called mimesis.

MODE (genre)—The created work demonstrates an awareness of the genre the piece was created in (painting, music, video, etc.) by referencing past incarnations of the genre and redefining that history in new and contemporary ways.

HISTORY (tradition)—The piece connects to known and understood events, culture and the practice of art. For instance, a sculpture should demonstrate that the person who executed it, the sculptor, has studied other previous sculptures. The work should demonstrate an obvious awareness of the world beyond the immediate concerns of the artist who created it.

TRAGEDY (emotional tone)—The emotional content and tone should be unambiguous, determined by such factors as the color scheme, lines of movement, rhythm, the softness and angularity of the shapes and the literal or depictive content. The piece should have a recognizable emotional tone and content with understandable clues that access this content. It can be tragic or comedic, but it needs to evoke some kind of emotional response or it’s not art.

STRUCTURE (composition)—The organizational relationships of the piece determine its structure. The placement of the elements within the visible framework should demonstrate an awareness of rhythm, placement, size, overlap and other abstract principals of visual logic. The structure of the piece should be understandable and it should have an anchoring point, the object, and the ancillary elements should work in concert with the foundation element.

UNITY (coherence)—The piece should be primarily about one thing and that thematic or aesthetic core should be the primary meaning from which all other considerations of the piece relate, in contrast or in concord.

UNIVERSALITY (breadth of message)—The piece should strive for meaning that transcends the primary issues regarding the artist and the audience, connecting both parties to larger issues that deal with interpersonal, social, cultural, psychological, political and archetypal themes or content.

ASTONISHMENT (expectations)—The piece should offer us the unexpected, presented in a way that balances out against our expectations.

REVERSAL (irony)—At some point in the presentation, our expectations are to be upset with the point of departure clearly defined and the reversal of expectation has a clear indicator or direction and point.

RECOGNITION (accessibility)—The elements of the piece that make it work must be recognizable in their origins and reference (semiotics).

So, there you go, my conceptual framework for determining the authenticity of the artistic effort.