This post was written by Seth Godin. Seth’s blog.
Of course, it started with craft. The craft of making a bowl or a tool or anything that created function. As humans became wealthier, we could seek out the artisan, the craftsperson who would add an element of panache and style to the tools we used. It’s not much of a leap from the beautiful functional object to one that has no function other than to be beautiful.
Art was born.
When art collided with royalty, religion and wealth, a match was made. Those in power could use art as a way to display their resources and to insist that they also were deserving of respect for their taste and their patronage of the artistic class.
And that would be the end of it, except the camera and commercial printing changed the very nature of art on canvas (and mass production changed sculpture). When anyone could have a print, or a vase, or a photo, art’s position as a signifier and a cultural force was threatened.
Hence the beginning of our modern definition of art, one that so many people are resistant to. Art doesn’t mean painting, art doesn’t mean realistic and art doesn’t mean beautiful.
Marcel Duchamp created a ruckus with ‘Fountain’, which appeared in an art exhibit in 1917. An upside-down urinal, Duchamp was saying quite a bit by displaying it. The second person to put a urinal into a museum, though, was merely a plumber.
About forty years later, Yves Klein created ‘Leap Into the Void.’ Long before Photoshop, he was playing with our expectations and our sense of reality.
Between Duchamp and Klein there were two generations of a redefinition of art. Art doesn’t mean craft. And art isn’t reserved for a few.
Art is the work of a human, an individual seeking to make a statement, to cause a reaction, to connect. Art is something new, every time, and art might not work, precisely because it’s new, because it’s human and because it seeks to connect.
Once art is freed from the canvas and the dealer and the gallery, it gains enormous power. Politicians and science fiction authors can do a sort of art. Anyone liberated from the assembly line and given a job where at least part of the time they decide, “what’s next,” has been given a charter to do art, to explore and discover and to create an impact.
When I write about making ‘art’, many people look at me quizzically. They don’t understand how to make the conceptual leap from a job where we are told what to do to a life where we decide what to do–and seek to do something that connects, that makes an impact, and that yes, might not work.
Five hundred years ago, no painter would talk to you about ideas, or even impact. Painters merely painted. Today, you don’t need a brush to be an artist, but you do need to want to make change.
What do you think? What is Art?