Went to the M.I.A. yesterday (That’s a museum, not missing-in-action) with the guys from Shadowrun, who doubtless realized that I was bored and missing James. There’s a bunch of artifacts from the British Museum there at the moment, but the exhibit was sold out, so we made do with roaming through the collections from various non-Western cultures, since my buddy Alan said he couldn’t handle Greek art any more, having suffered a surfeit of representational classicism in his youth. Which is understandable. We wound up viewing a lot of Hindu art, which was bizarre and spectacular, and a number of Japanese ink paintings, which made me want to fall to my knees sobbing “I’m such a slackwad!” (Alan patted me on the shoulder at this and said “Don’t worry, we all suck,” which was somewhat consoling.) I’ll have to go back sometime with a sketchbook and an afternoon to kill.
Following that, had an overpriced dinner (but overpriced beats unidentified lumps, which is what I’d have made) of free-range chicken, spinach, and goat cheese quesedillas, which was so damn hip I wanted to dislike it on general principle, but it was actually pretty tasty. We talked about what makes art. It’s a hard topic. What we finally agreed on–sort of–is that there are all kinds of..mm…varieties of human endeavor, from furniture-making to pottery to painting to dance to writing, etc, and in any of those fields, a good chunk of it may be skillful and nifty, and another chunk of it sucks donkeys, and of the good and nifty stuff, sometimes you get things that are, for one reason or another, art. Fortunately, nobody felt that “everyone’s an artist!” or “everything is art!” because if they had, I would’ve been forced to fling quesedillas at them while screaming “Then this is performance art, biaaaatch!” and that’s not something one wants to do to one’s friends in a nice restaraunt.
I think part of the problem may be that “art” has become both synonymous with “2-d visual representations” and with “anything I like” so that people start saying “If you love what you do, it’s art!” and other such obnoxious self-help homilies that make me want to run screaming and committing hostile art to their ass. I happen to love my cat. My cat is not art. I knew people who are accountants and really enjoyed their job, they were good at it, and they liked the solidity of having a right answer, but that does not mean that a properly filled out 1040 is Art.
Possibly people need to realize that anything cool is not neccessarily art. Things can be cool that are not art. Nature is cool. Nature doesn’t make art, because art is by definition the product of a sentient hand, and nature lacks sentience as a whole. But it’s still COOL. Dino bones kick ass. Those funky cloud formations that you see and think “Man, if I tried to paint those, people’d think I had no idea how to paint clouds,” are COOL. But they’re not art. A lot of the artifacts at the museum were very cool, but they weren’t art–but that’s okay. Stuff can be seriously neat and not be art. I have a couple of bowls that are practical, relatively attractive, hand made, and functional, and some of them have neat textures, but they’re cool examples of a craft, they don’t leap that barrier into being something more than the sum of themselves. They’re not art. (I get to say this because I made them myself.) Which is fine. “Art” is not a synonym for “cool” and “artist” is not a synonym for “any human being who has the potential to make something cool.” If it IS a synonym for those things, then ‘art’ as a word is completely meaningless, and we need a new word for people who, skilled in a craft, manage to make stuff that gives you that feeling you get when you viewed the substance formerly known as art.
I propose “wombat.”