On art, artifice and artlessness

12 Mar

I have been contemplating the nature of art recently. That sounds a lot more high-falluting than it really is! I’ve just been trying to figure out what it is about art that seems “high brow” or “elite”.

I wonder about the labelling of things in this way at all. And I began to wonder whether there is something in the label itself, in the word “art” that has negative connotations.

So, to dictionary.com:

1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art
6. (in printed matter) illustrative or decorative material: Is there any art with the copy for this story?
7. the principles or methods governing any craft or branch of learning: the art of baking; the art of selling.
8. the craft or trade using these principles or methods
9. skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.
10. a branch of learning or university study, esp. one of the fine arts or the humanities, as music, philosophy, or literature.
11a. (used with a singular verb ) the humanities: a college of arts and sciences.
b. (used with a plural verb ) LIBERAL ARTS.
12. skilled workmanship, execution, or agency, as distinguished from nature.
13. trickery; cunning: glib and devious art..
14. studied action; artificiality in behavior
15. an artifice or artful device: the innumerable arts and wiles of politics.
16. Archaic. science, learning, or scholarship.

Right. Well, my problems begin right up in point 1 with aesthetic principles. What are aesthetic principles, who decides them, and are they the same for everyone?
Number 9 is another problem for me “master of the art”. I don’t like the concept of mastering arts. I want to be grappling with my art until the day I die!

And then we get to 12, 13, 14, 15…isn’t the key here all about a degree of falseness? Fakeness?

Let’s explore further:

1. a clever trick or strategem; a cunning, crafty device or expedient; wile.
2. trickery; guile; craftiness.
3. cunning; ingenuity; inventiveness: a drawing-room comedy crafted with artifice and elegance.
4. a skilful or artful contrivance or expedient.

Which led me to –

1.    slyly crafty or cunning; deceitful; tricky; artful schemes.
2.    skilful or clever in adapting means to ends; ingenious: an artful choice of metaphors and similes.
3.    done with or characterized by art or skill: artful acting; artful repairs
4.    Archaic. Artificial

It’s a curious mixture, isn’t it? Praising on the one hand, condemning on the other. Art versus reality, art separate from reality – never a happy coexistence.

And so I ended my linguistic voyage with –

1.    free from deceit, cunning, or craftiness; ingenuous: an artless child
2.    not artificial; natural; simple; uncontrived: artless beauty; artless charm
3.    lacking art, knowledge, or skill
4.    Poorly made; inartistic; clumsy; crude: an artless translation

And so even here we cannot win! The ingenuous, natural, simple, is also lacking knowledge, clumsy and crude.

The man-madeness of art is what is at question here. The sense that it is unnatural, and therefore some sort of deceit, trickery, lie. Is that a good or a bad thing? Is it alright that art is perceived as smoke and mirrors, a fantasy, an illusion?


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