Relatively speaking, very few man-made objects deserve to be called Art (keeping in mind that there are probably billions of pieces out there being created). For example, I have been drawing pencil sketches of portraits for years. I often print out a full-size copy of the photograph, trace very lightly where the eyes, nose, and ears are supposed to go, and then I shade it according to how I perceive the shadows to have fallen in the picture. I'm good at it and people often tell me that I have a rare talent. They would be shocked to find that although I claim to have artistic ability, I dont consider my drawings art.
So what is Art? Ayn Rand said it best: "Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value judgments." Whoa, what the hell does that mean? Basically, an artist must create something that re-presents reality in some way that is consistent with a judgment that he or she attaches to a value such as love. Whether it is a painting, statue, poem, or song, it must represent a judgment of a value (i.e. "Man is a hero" or "Love heals" or "Life is ultimately meaningless"). The painting or poem is a vessel that conveys the importance or the realization of this judgment.
So what is craft? Craft is basically everything else that goes into an "artistic" pursuit (Note: my sketches, while not qualifying as Art, can still be deemed 'artistic' in that they present an ability that I have. This ability would allow for me to craft pieces that represent a judgment and thus contain artistic value). I would consider myself a good craftsman rather than a good Artist if I were to judge on the sole basis of my sketches. My hand and my eyes work well to draw the lines and to create shades that blend to form a face. There is little to no creativity involved. I am not expressing what I think about the face or what it means to me. I am simply recreating it using skill. This is akin to building a motor or a birdhouse. All craft, no Art.
But Art requires skillful craft in order to be good. Good Art, the kind that deserves to be in museums, is that which selectively recreates reality in a profoundly meaningful way and which presents the skill of the artist at its peak. Take Michelangelo's David for an example. The statue is of a perfectly formed man whose feet seem rooted to the earth and whose eyes are pointed off to the side as if proud of his graceful form and of the excellence of his abilities. The statue, inspired by the story of the young boy who slayed Goliath and became king, is a tribute to and testament of man's noble and strong spirit. David's muscles are beautifully developed, as if this is how man should look. His hands are disproportionately large, as if to draw attention to man's ability to build and create great things with the skillful coordination between a rational mind and a confident hand. The statue itself is carved in a way that causes one to stand in awe of the ability of man as creator (believe me, I've seen it up close). This is Art. This is a carefully and passionately crafted object of beauty that meant something to the artist and means something to the viewer.
So when someone says that Michelangelo's David is a work of art and then claims that a street side "starving artist" who has just thrown balloons filled with paint at a canvas has also created a work of Art, it will become clear how many people will never understand that Art, just like any other thing, should be held against well defined standards. This unfortunate wave of subjectivism explains why so many museums are clogged with crap that is neither meaningful or beautifully crafted. This explains why there exist people who think that they are creating poetry by cutting words from a newspaper, placing them in a bag, shaking them, and then randomly arranging them on paper. This failure to draw lines and set rigid standards (or any standards, for that matter) is the reason why movements that promote abstract art have produced so many worthless pieces that people appreciate out of ignorance or out of some unnameable guilt that stems from a fear of any sort of elitism. Any person who randomly places paint or material objects in meaningless configurations and then hangs them up for all to see does not deserve to be called an artist. Usually these people aren't even good craftsmen. Most of the time, they only succeed in the steady production of Crap (e.g. an object that purports to be art yet is lacking in artistic value and fails to display good craftsmanship).
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Edited by Felipe, 30 March 2005 - 12:20 AM.