What is ART?

Alone, I am sat in a white room, with low ceilings and the floor completely covered by sand. I am posed with that reoccurring question: what is art? I volunteered to invigilate at a technical sculptor’s exhibition that was described as a ‘visual installation encapsulating everyday building material and physical space’. Hearing that phrase without seeing the work sounds interesting and thought-provoking and you automatically conjure an image in your head of how you might depict it. I visited the ‘Sensing Spaces’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts last week, which adhering to a similar description, is a visual installation that interacts with objects and their surrounding spaces (which you can read about here). That exhibition, unlike the one I am currently in, incorporated the audience in the physical space they occupied and posed questions, whilst being creatively artistic.

Throughout history, art has evolved and journeyed through different stages. It is evident that each era has seen a new style of art that challenges the norm and what has previously been recognised and identified as art. Change always causes a controversy and it has been shown that a lot of developments are not accepted or celebrated until much later. This has proven consistent with art throughout history, from the initial break from religious art to realism in the 19th century. I understand therefore, how I must also unconsciously succumb to this disapproval and inability to recognise an installation such as this as art. However, as I have mentioned before, visual art, as in its name, should be visually stimulating. Although there have been movements that beat against the current, they still incorporate essentially creative values that define art.

In today’s society, artists are so common. Many striving to be unique and/or initiate a question or response for the viewer underestimate or forget about the importance of visual creativity. This room of sand that I am sat in comes with a detailed explanation about the themes that the artist commonly addresses in his work, as well as the intention of this particular piece. I believe that I am generally open-minded, this however seems to me to be pretentious nonsense. I am open to and appreciate different forms or styles of art but I have always had reservations and level of scepticism when it comes to some contemporary arts such as this one I am currently within. In my opinion, art should be creative, affective and aesthetically and mentally invigorating. Visual art, as outlined by its name, is a visual medium and therefore should first and foremost, capture one’s attention by sense of sight, rather than a long explanation as to what it means.

There is one part of the description that reports how the centrepiece comes alive through audience interaction. This is a common idea that is frequently featured in much contemporary art, including the installations I visited at ‘Sensing Spaces’ and specifically the piece by Diébédo Francis Kéré. This installation consisted of a white tunnel made of honeycomb panels, the public were then invited to add brightly coloured straws in any way they liked. In contrast to the room in which I am sat, every experience Kéré’s installation had with the audience caused the overall appearance to be altered, and therefore it came alive through the audience interaction. The only interaction any viewer can have with this sand is to rake it, make sandcastles or imprint on it. This implies the sand is more of a feature or an experience, rather than a piece of art.

I considered other ways the installation could be made more creative, for example the alterations to the sand could be documented. Photographs could be taken of the sand after each visitor disrupts it, and this could then be compiled into a video. Alternatively a video camera could be left on a time lapse filming the entire room for the duration of the exhibition. This would at least provide something of interest to discuss or question. As I sit here by myself, surrounded by white walls and a white ceiling and no windows, I feel presented with a blank canvas and I can’t help but imagine all the possibilities to use the space affectively and artistically. There is so much potential, but instead it is wasted.

In my opinion, art is a creative outlet, it is imagination, it is releasing and it is emotional. Art is an expression of freedom and is composed of the personal relationship of an artist with their subject. It might cause the viewer to consider something they have not before, but the piece should have the ability to do this visually, not verbally. For myself as an artist, the process of painting is invigorating, liberating  and provides me with a bliss and tranquillity I can rarely achieve otherwise. This installation I am sat in lacks inspiration, emotion and creative expression and that is why I cannot accept this as art.

By and by you might wonder why I volunteered here, because obviously  I was aware of the type of work the artist practiced in advance. I had looked through the artist’s website and the rest of his work is quite interesting and more creative than this installation, and foolishly I made the assumption that more of his works would be displayed. I also did not anticipate that I would be on my own, I like to work with people and enjoy meeting new people. Not a single visitor came in while I was there, hence the cause of this little essay.

2014-02-11 13.56.29

Original version, hand-written.
Original version, hand-written.

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