Overthinking art leads to overblogging about art.

September 23, 2009

Inspired by the conversation about art going on with Adam (and now George), I wrote the following very long rambly blurb in my notebook while at work today. I can’t actually blog from work, but nothing can stop me from writing pointless screeds! Enjoy! And yes, it does appear that I started writing mid-sentence. I never claimed to be coherent.

[original collage by yrstruly]

I think that most of the problem when pricing/selling art comes down to objective value vs. subjective value. Objectively, a piece might only be worth the cost of raw materials – whereas subjectively, the artist may put a much higher price tag on it. People are willing to pay  more for a meal at a restaurant that is priced higher than the combined price of the ingredients because they feel that they can’t make it at home. In reality, all it takes to cook is the ability to follow a recipe. And yet, people understand that a master chef has more training, experience, and passion (not to mention poisson! Oh, I kill me.) than they do and as such, his food is virtually guaranteed to be better. There is also, of course, the element of paying for the experience of eating in a restaurant – in a nice atmosphere where you are waited on, as opposed to your own kitchen where you have to do the dishes when you’re done.


Another analogy is high fashion – clothes are utilitarian and practical, and yet, we have a culture full of designers who are devoted to turning clothes into aesthetic objects. And we love it! We watch Project Runway and read Vogue and just accept that “high fashion” (we even call it “haute couture” – so fancy, it has to be talked about in French!) garments are worth more than their raw materials because they are created by experienced, dedicated, and talented designers to be beautiful and not just utilitarian.  And yet, many people who eat gourmet meals or read Vogue balk at modern art with a sense of “My kid could do that!”


On the one hand, it is a succinct and true reminder that there is no prerequisite for implicit talent necessary to create art.  On the other hand, it’s also an obvious dismissal of the sheer amount of work that artists put into honing their craft.

My response to anyone who looks at a piece of art and thinks “I could do that!” isn’t to try and defend artists as great masters enlightened into some deeper secret of the universe (although this is certainly true of a select few artists throughout history) – but rather to implore people to do it. You should do it. You should stretch your creative muscles. Maybe you will, in Adam’s words, produce the crappiest crap in all of Crapland, but so what?

Perhaps you will try again and keep working until you produce something that isn’t crap. Maybe you will stop and recognize that art takes more work than you thought. Maybe you’ll realize that art isn’t for you and your true calling is motorcycle maintenance.

In any case, I believe the world needs more artists. I also believe that art – much like a religious vocation or academic life – is a calling.  Artists, those of us who devote ourselves to our craft, do so not because we are called by any special talent or inner gift, but because we are compelled to keep going everytime we populate Crapland with crap with the hope that someday, we will create something meaningful, and yet knowing full well that we will in the future, be producing even more crap.


Photo by Flickr user agentkevinski

We need to knock art off its pedestal. Too often, people view art as something they need to understand and when they “don’t get it,” they assume it’s their fault, that they’re not smart enough. Whether or not you like something is another matter entirely, but if you don’t “get it,” that’s a failing of the artist to communicate, not a failing of your own intelligence.

Sometimes there’s nothing to get. Sometimes art just is. Sometimes the artist really is just thumbing her nose at the viewer.  Ironically, in these cases it’s often the critics and the academics who don’t “get it” and end up overthinking the work and revering it as a statement on the place of art and its meaning in society.

Just because a critic says something doesn’t make it true. Everyone’s a critic. Everyone has a reaction to art. Everyone has aesthetic ideals and preferences, whether they recognize this and act on it or not.

Everyone’s blog posts just sort of end abruptly, much like they started mid-sentence. Or at least, mine do.


3 Responses to “Overthinking art leads to overblogging about art.”

  1. Coriana Says:

    I just wanted to say that I am following this conversation with a great deal of interest, even though I haven’t yet contributed to it — I have things I sort of kind of want to say, but none of them have yet found coherent enough form to post on the intarwebs.

    Except, of course, the ever-relevant quote from Ani DiFranco:
    “Art is why I get up in the morning, but my definition ends there.”

    ~ c.

    • Sonja Says:

      Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that line a lot as well.

      And you totally should contribute! The internerds totally don’t require coherence! Just look at me and my own mind vomit!

  2. Coriana Says:

    Finally started trying to write some thoughts related to all this. Linked you therein. Is a mess; more will certainly be writ at later dates. Thoughts welcome.


    ~ c.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: