One more time…

What is art?

There’s an old black and white movie that spends two hours depicting a jury sitting around a table in a room, deliberating the verdict of a murder trial.

Now I could also be wrong about this too, but I think it all starts when Jimmy Stewart, who’s the only one of the twelve jurors who hasn’t quite made up his mind to sentence the young man on trial to death, decides he wants to go over things… one more time.

In doing so, everyone realizes that they’re not looking at the facts of the case at all, but rather have made up their minds to punish the accused for no other reason than they’re all just really angry at someone else in their personal lives who they can’t punish.

With the question, “Can I just go through it one more time?” the neatly rolled up guilty verdict (and resulting death sentence) starts to unravel until it finally comes completely undone, and the whole jury agrees the man is innocent and they themselves are just “12 Angry Men.”

And so it is, sometimes, with these apparently simple and obvious things like art.

Another allegory or analogy: Einstein (remember, don’t take my word for all this) would apparently spend days working on a solution to some deep, fundamental physics problem that he wasn’t satisfied with and then throw all his calculations and papers away and start over again.

You can do that with physics because everything is derived from first principles (laws, or something) and any physics problem can be solved (if you know how) by applying the handful of first principles to the complexities of any situation.

Einstein would start all over because he thought he would stumble on the answer if he could start from the beginning and go over it… one more time.

So, like Einstein at his desk, and Jimmy Stewart in the jury room, I don’t feel quite satisfied with my current understanding of things, and although I can’t really see an obvious mistake in any of it, I just want to go over it again, one more time.

So, one more time…

What is art?

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5 thoughts on “One more time…

  1. At the risk of over-simplifying things, allow me to suggest that it all depends on what sort of answer you (and those engaging in conversation with you) are willing to accept. For example, if you’re willing to accept a dictionary definition, then just consult your favorite dictionary. If the conversation isn’t to be grounded on something so simple and objective, then the task becomes much more complex.

  2. I am willing to accept any answer which can withstand any objection made to it.

    I went to several dictionaries and found art defined as objects of: beauty; significance; human creativity.

    What is a fractal? We can make a brief statement about self-similarity and patterns and repeated formulas and that would be adequate for a casual viewer of fractals, but if I wanted to make a fractal program, those definitions wouldn’t be too useful.

    The dictionary definition of art isn’t wrong, but it only tells us mostly how the word is used, not really what it means. That’s okay for casual viewers of art, who have a more general level of observation, but if we want to perform the role of a curator or artist or critic, then we will also need a more precise definition. (Artists need to know in order to respond to critics)

    The dictionary definition uses terms which in turn need to be further defined. What is beauty? significance? creativity?

    So you’re right, the task has become much more complex.

    But we can still make art without defining it. I’m just curious, that’s all.

  3. Well, there is certainly no shortage of thoughts on this particular subject. Here’s a sampling:

    “Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.”
    –Alfred North Whitehead

    “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.”
    –Andre Gide

    “I believe that if it were left to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none.”
    –Ben Shahn

    “Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.”
    –Frank Zappa

    “Art is the only thing you cannot punch a button for.”
    –Leonytne Price

    “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”
    –Pablo Picasso

    “Art completes what Nature cannot bring to finish.”

    “Art is paying attention.”
    –Laurie Anderson

    “Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.”
    –W. H. Auden

    “Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant, or a child in its mother’s womb.
    –Jean Arp

    “Art is no longer anything more than a kind of meta-language for banality.”
    –Jean Baudrillard

    “Art is I; science is we.”
    –Claude Bernard

    “Art is our memory of love.”
    –Annie Bevan

    “Art is frozen zen.”
    –Reginald H. Blyth

    “Art is the only thing that can go on mattering once it has stopped hurting.”
    –Elizabeth Bowen

    “There hasn’t been any art yet. Art is just beginning.”
    –Constantin Brancusi

    “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”
    –Bertolt Brecht

    “Art is beautiful but it is hard, like a religion without a purpose.”
    –Gunter Brus

    “Art is a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the confused.”
    –Al Capp

    “Art is a liaison between some sort of deranged mentality and others who are not going through it.”
    –John Chamberlain

    “Art isn’t everything. It’s just about everything.”
    –Gertrude Stein

    “Art is Nature speeded up and God slowed down.”

    “Art is science made clear.”
    –Jean Cocteau

    “Art isn’t something you marry. It’s something you rape.”
    –Edgar Degas

    “Art is seduction, not rape.”
    –Susan Sontag

    “Art is like an ill-trained Labrador retriever that drags you out into traffic.”
    –Annie Dillard

    “If it has a use it isn’t art.”
    –Patterson Ewen

    “Art is just a pigment of your imagination.”
    –Tony Follari

    “Science disembodies; art embodies.”
    –John Fowles

    “Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”
    –Paul Gauguin

    “All art is erotic.”
    –Gustav Klimt

    “Art doesn’t have to match the couch.”
    –Penny Pennyington

    “Art is what you can get away with.”
    –Marshall McLuhan

    “What is art anyway?”
    –Georgia O’Keeffe

    “Art is long, and the talk about it is even longer.”
    –William J. Locke

    “Enough has been said about art already.”
    –Gregori Gillespi

  4. Einstein wrote on his bedsheets,by golly.
    Hmmm… did they get thrown away?

    It was Henry Fonda. Both (F&S) played both likeable kids and ornery old galutes. From this distance it’s easy to confuse them. Them and Glen Ford… artists all.

    It’s ok. they’d probably confuse your work with … say… mine for instance.


  5. Henry Fonda. Hmmn… him and Jimmy Stewart are brothers, I think, from two different marriages. That’s how he got the role as the man who shot Liberty Valance and why their last names are different. Although I find it easier to picture Fonda with a gun than Stewart. Of course, Stewart didn’t actually shoot Liberty Valance. Fonda would have shot him.

    The sad thing about all this is I could quickly find out the answer with a Google search. So much information at our fingertips has cut many a good discussion short.

    Not like in the good old days, when you could argue for an entire evening over whether Sidney Poitier was actually French and emigrated to America at a young age or American all along and just a very classy guy. At which point someone might say he looks South African but that doesn’t fit because then he’d have an accent unless he went to boarding school in the US, but then he’d practically be american after that, culturally anyhow, and that’s what we’re really talking about, isn’t it.

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