What is Art?

In the New York Times “T Magazine”, an article presented The 25 Works of Art That Define the Contemporary Age, selected by three artists and two curators. Contemporary was defined as works made after 1970. A diverse group, there was initial disagreement on how such a selection was even possible, but there emerged lists which had overlaps. These mutually agreed-upon works largely excluded famous and high-earning artists, and entire categories of media. There are few paintings, and no works on paper or photography, but there are videos, performances, and assemblages. Most were conceptual, often with a political or social message.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote “Who Will Teach Us How to Feel?” in response to the selection of these works. He begins by noting that few of the works have any appeal to a mass audience, and few of the artists are known outside the art world. More importantly, he sees in the works little personal involvement or connections between people, thus failing to provide the education of emotional experience that he sees as one of the cultural values of the arts.

I have never been part of the “Art World” in any real sense, although I have been on the edge to varying degrees for fifty years. While possessing all the traditional skills for making art, in particular drawing, I did not feel personal connection to the contemporary works in museums or galleries in my hometown, Washington, DC. It never occurred to me to pursue art as a career, although one of my majors in college was architecture.

My degrees were earned in the social sciences, and my work was as a technical professional. Art was always something I did also, eventually leading to my being a founding member of an artist’s cooperative in the 1980s and having a studio in Georgetown. I exhibited traditional drawings and paintings in the coop’s gallery and then at the DC area’s open art event, Artomatic. Eventually I had works accepted by juried exhibits.

Perhaps I am what David Brooks would call an artist, someone whose work is accessible to anyone at some level, although I agree that education and experience in viewing art adds to its appreciation. The creation of a two-dimensional artwork is, for me, the creation of a composition which arrests the viewer initially, and is not boring on further viewing. While mainly my compositions are made up of things recognizable in the real would, there is no attempt to copy nature. Having done some non-objective abstracts, and appreciating some of the classic examples of the genre, I do not find them as interesting to create as figurative or landscape works.