plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

I wrote this satire months ago but never posted it. I was worried about antagonizing some people in a way that could harm my future prospects in the art world. But today Edward Winkleman and Art News Blog both raise the question, “What is Art?” in different ways. I thought, what the heck…

What is Art?

In our time, the answer to this question is under the control of the art elite. The answer to the question is simple:

“Art” is x,

where x is a variable. The value of x is approximately “something that an ordinary person could never understand.”

The reason that x is a variable, and not a constant, is because its value must continually change. If ordinary people begin to understand what x is, then the value must change, so that they do not understand what x is. The reason for this is simple also: If people understood what x was, then they could answer the question “What is Art?” themselves, and there would be no need for the art elite. Thus, the art elite must continually change x, as a matter of survival.

Even though ordinary people cannot understand art (by definition), they can still see it. True, the art elite has developed a form of art called “conceptual art”, but even this is given a physical manifestation. The art elite has not yet, to my knowledge, succeeded in selling tickets to an empty museum.

To continue, ordinary people can see art. But what they see puzzles them, and often they do not like it. In general people are content with things they do not understand, if they like them. They may even be tempted to think they understand the thing that they like. In order to prevent this presumption, the art elite has found it necessary to further refine the definition of Art. Thus,

“Art” is x,

where x is something an ordinary person could never understand, and also something that an ordinary person does not like.

It is clear that the interests of the art elite do not coincide with those of the ordinary person. An ordinary person would like to be able to go to a gallery or a modern art museum and see something he or she likes, and perhaps even understands. The art elite must not allow this to happen.

How can we escape the power of the art elite? It might seem like a good idea to abolish the word “art” altogether. Consider the following situation: you are in a modern art museum, and a member of the art elite points to a pile of plastic dog shit on the floor and says, in a reverent tone, “This is Art.” If we abolished the word “art”, then the sentence would be reduced to “This is . . .” The member of the art elite would be left with an embarrassing silence. And what would be left except a plastic pile of dog shit?

To abolish the word “art” would throw the art elite off balance, but it would not take away their power. The reason is that “art” is only a word, and abolishing the word does not abolish the concept it refers to. It would only take a short time for the art elite to confer and settle upon a new word or symbol (perhaps even x) to refer to the same meaning (or lack of meaning) that the word “art” used to refer to. And we would be no better off than before, except that we would have x museums instead of art museums.

The best way to deal with the art elite is to attack the very source of their power, the control over the question, “What is art?” The way to do this is to make a new definition:

“Art is what [fill in your name here] likes to look at.”

This might seem too simple to be useful. But please, take a moment to think of the implications.