Monday, November 19, 2007

Art? Part II: The Problem Word

A multi-part essay on Art and what I think about it.

Language, being the amazing thing that it is, allows us to convey the ideas floating around in each of our heads to a multitude of others. It’s a pretty good communication device, but it does have its problems. One of these is that language is an ever evolving form of communication. The meanings and spellings of words change over time. A word might also have many different meanings at the same time. The word may be used to describe a myriad of related and even totally unrelated ideas. “Art” is one such word, tossed around casually with only some nebulous idea as to what we really mean by it. Generally that’s okay, but when you’re trying to get a point across it helps that your listener understands what you mean when you say “art”. Otherwise you start implying on the message boards that one of your compadres is nuts and likely to end up on top of a tower with a high-powered rifle. It happens.

Art has been used as a catch-all word for many things: paintings, sculpture, photographs, music. The art of cooking, for example, would suggest that art encompasses the skill required to create complicated and unpronounceable French cuisine. Unless it means that the chef is painting with catsup. Most people, I contend, use it exclusively to mean what they believe to be good art. They automatically disregard anything they don’t feel is worthy of the “art” title because they either don’t like it or don’t want to waste their time trying to understand it.

The word art is nothing more than three letters that have been assigned to stand for an idea. The letters have no intrinsic meaning themselves. Andy Warhol, when asked about such things as this would respond: “Art? That’s a man’s name.’’ We speakers of English have just assigned meaning to this string of three symbols so we can understand each other. But because people on a daily basis don’t really worry about coming to a specific meaning for the word, it’s generally not a big deal. Most people are able to get their point across.

Because of the trouble that word could get us into, it might be better to use another to describe the group of things that I’m trying to categorize. Perhaps. But it’s such a short, easy-to-type, readily recognizable, cute little word. So put away your ideas of what the word art means to you and let me swipe it for a while. I promise that when I’m done you can have it back again to use however you like.
Next time: So. Art.



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