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Art Vs. Craft Vs. Crap

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rdenoncourt
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I recently took an introductory class in writing poetry. One day we were all discussing the value of Art and I came to the conclusion that when it comes to Art, most people are afraid to draw lines (excuse the pun). Have you ever heard someone say "Anything can be art"? This is sometimes said after one criticizes the hideously warped metal structures outside of corporate buildings. There are two rules to remember when it comes to art: (1) It's ok to be elitist when judging so-called works of art, and (2) never forget the importance of craftsmanship.

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).

[Deleted unnecessary advertising of blog.]

Edited by Felipe
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I agree that there needs to be elitism and a peer review with art and that not "just anything" can be art.

I am not 100% comfortable with Rand's definition of art as simply "selective recreation of reality" and that doing so implies that there is a metaphysical jusdgement. Art seems perfectly capable of expressing that which is not yet reality, and displaying the imaginative.

I personally know that I would not want the only art work in my future home to be the artwork availabe at cordair.com, simply because I would probably find other pieces that would better job of decorating my home, even if the art at cordair.com does a better job of fullfilling Rand's own criteria.

Edited by Strangelove
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I agree that there needs to be elitism and a peer review with art and that not "just anything" can be art.

I am not 100% comfortable with Rand's definition of art as simply "selective recreation of reality" and that doing so implies that there is a metaphysical jusdgement. Art seems perfectly capable of expressing that which is not yet reality, and displaying the imaginative.

I personally know that I would not want the only art work in my future home to be the artwork availabe at cordair.com, simply because I would probably find other pieces that would better job of decorating my home, even if the art at cordair.com does a better job of fullfilling Rand's own criteria.

I don't think that the phrase "recreation of reality" is as limiting as you think. Even the most fantastical and abstract image or thing can be a recreation of reality as long as it expresses some kind of value judgment. This is because that value is part of reality, therefore any judgment of it, concretized in a paiting or sculpture or poem, would necessarily be a recreation of the reality of that judgment or of the reality in which the value is contextualized (as viewed by the artist).

At least, this is how I see it. I agree that true Art can be more than just Cordair pieces and Rand book covers.

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Art seems perfectly capable of expressing that which is not yet reality, and displaying the imaginative.

How do you suppose art "expresses" anything? Any unconscious entity by itself can express nothing, and therefore cannot be art. It presupposes an artist, a creator, behind it. No man-made object creates itself. No work of art lacks a consciousness that created it. Now what is the distinguishing characteristic that makes an object art, as opposed to any other creation? We say that the artist selectively recreated reality according to his value judgements (held consciously or not).

How do you suppose you distinguish between a work of art and just some decoration? Simple, you consult the definition above. You'll notice that the defining characteristic is epistemological: it belongs to the consciousness behind the creation of the piece, rather than being something metaphysically present in the creation itself. We discover whether it is art by examining the details in the piece, then make a reasoned estimate as to what kind of thought process brought it about. That is how you tell if it is art or not (of course, ideally we'd want to look inside the creators' mind, but that isn't possible).

I personally know that I would not want the only art work in my future home to be the artwork availabe at cordair.com, simply because I would probably find other pieces that would better job of decorating my home, even if the art at cordair.com does a better job of fullfilling Rand's own criteria.

As long as you know why you like it, and find nothing immoral with it (through consulting reason, not your emotional responses), then there is nothing wrong with that.

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It presupposes an artist, a creator, behind it. No man-made object creates itself. No work of art lacks a consciousness that created it.

You don't say...

An unconscious item CAN express something although not through its actions. Instead, it expresses a value judgment through its appearance. The reason why we can say that it expresses something is because it must work in conjunction with the viewer to form an understanding. If the object did not express anything at all, the viewer would be doing all the work and every unique individual that looked at a painting would have a radically different idea of what it represented. This is not the case since it is possible for large numbers of people to come to the same conclusions about a piece of art without every consulting each other. In other words, the creator expresses something through the piece of art which then expresses something (which may be altogether different from what the creator had in mind) to the viewer.

A work of art and a piece of decoration are different in that the work of art will always be better crafted and will usually be more effective in representing a more profound value judgment. A decoration is a mere trinket that adds to the mood of a setting; a work of art is a mood in itself.

Re-read my article and pay attention to the aspect of craft. Also, realize that a work of art can and should express something profound and meaningful, even if different viewers will interpret it differently. Anything can be art AS LONG AS it represents a value judgment and is crafted beautifully or exquisitely. It doesnt just have to be the paintings and sculptures you find at Cordair. Someone could create a piece of art that represents the ideal world as one where individuality is wholly suppressed. This too would be art (as long as it was crafted well enough), although one would have to denounce such a blatantly false value judgment (but that is another issue).

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An unconscious item CAN express something although not through its actions. Instead, it expresses a value judgment through its appearance. The reason why we can say that it expresses something is because it must work in conjunction with the viewer to form an understanding.

Let me ask you this. Suppose that an entity existed on earth that looked exactly like Michelangelo's David. Except, it was never created. It is in fact, an eternal, inviolate metaphysical necessity of existence, just like the universe. It is indestructable. It has always existed and always will exist. This entity just happens to look like that statue, standing on a pedestal, by accident. Does this statue-like entity, by itself, express anything? Or how about: you find what to all appearances is a piece of paper with this message on it: only, nobody ever wrote it. It is eternal. Does it express anything?

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I recently visited my local university Art Museum which is currently displaying two features from a couple so-called artists. The art peices were called...get this: "Sorry" and "The Failure of Intelligence." The former was a collection of blown up pictures of people speaking on TV regarding the trend of "public apologies" ie. those of politicians or pop stars. For example, there was Janet Jackson apologising after her "wardrobe malfunction" and Rumsfeld apologizing for the Abu Ghraib scandal. The latter was just some huge letters painted on a wall that spelled "redefine."

I asked the girl at the museum to explain what these art pieces meant. Some of the messages were anti-capitism, media manipulation etc... She said, "and they're very Canadian because they display a sense of anti-Amercanism." I asked her why we define ourselves as Canadian by referring to a negative value? What are we, as Canadians for. I also asked what any artists are for, and why all the art is supposed to be anti-something? Blank out.

Edited by drewfactor
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The meaning of a particular piece of art is not open to interpretation as (like has been mentioned) it represents something of value or of importance to the artist; therefore, it can only mean what the artist intended. One can like or dislike the piece based on the value expressed in relation to one's own value of the subject, but one cannot say, "Well, this is what it means to me..."; that is to imply that it could mean something different to someone else. Of course, one can misinterpret it's meaning, but that would not change its real, intended one; and it would then not be a good representation of the artist's value as s/he could not clearly convey it.

I'm reminded of the scene in "The Fountainhead" when Keating shows Roark his paintings. Roark dislikes them not because Keating is a bad painter, but because their values are diametrically different; so, it is impossible for Roark to like them.

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Todd,

Thanks for reminding me about that scene (Part-4, Chapter-8).

In the scene from "The Fountainhead", Roark looks at Keating's paintings and says "It's too late, Peter".

Interestingly, when Peter enters at the start of that chapter, Roark is shocked at his "disintegration" and he saw "that it was too late".

Ayn Rand leaves it up to the reader to draw conclusions about the nature of the paintings (if more is mentioned elsewhere in the book, please correct me).

I assume that Peter was making an effort to paint well and to express what he thought of as "his self". I assume that he had sold so much of his soul to the devil, that he had little "self" left. My guess is that the paintings were crude attempts at self-expression that simply could not hide the myriad second-handed ideas that Keating had allowed himself to absorb over the years. I imagine the paintings would have been a hodge podge in which one would see little hints of Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Degas, and so on and on... just a mess!

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Rich, thank you for posting your essay. I enjoyed it. I've been curious for some time about the question of what exactly is "art". I have a few questions for you or anyone else who cares to discuss them.

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.

Then following from Rand's definition, I assume it would be possible for some work to objectively qualify as "art", even though it portrays reality according to a metaphysical judgment with which we might disagree?

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.

This question of what is art and what is craft is a fairly hot topic in the woodworking community. I'm an amateur woodworker who has built a bunch of cabinets and furniture for my home. I'm semi-skilled at the craft, but I would never call any of my works "art".

However, there are woodworkers who claim to create "furniture as art". For example, one artist makes chairs that are built in such a way that nobody could ever sit in them. They are either upside down, or the seat is tilted at a wild angle, or there are sharp spikes protruding from the chair back and the seat, etc.... Not only do these "chairs" lack any functionality, but they're also hideous in my opinion. Nevertheless, someone buying one of these pieces would clearly be purchasing it as art, not as a chair. Is it valid to call this "art" in accordance with Rand's definition?

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.

Certainly I would agree that in order for something to be art, it requires skillful craft. Some highly skilled woodworkers make furniture with intricate patterns of contrasting wood or other materials inlaid into their surfaces. This "Intarsia" is essentially painting a picture using small pieces of inlaid wood. It is very difficult and can be quite beautiful, if done the right way. Nevertheless, I still have a problem calling this "art". To me, it remains furniture with a nicely inlaid pattern. It's beautifully done, but it's still a chest of drawers or a dining room table or a kitchen cabinet. These things are all primarily functional pieces, not art.

Can art also be functional, or does it simply have to be something that is beautiful in its own right, with little or no functionality? On the other hand, is it possible to take mundane, everyday objects and apply such skill to their creation and make them so beautiful that they become art?

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Can art also be functional, or does it simply have to be something that is beautiful in its own right, with little or no functionality?  On the other hand, is it possible to take mundane, everyday objects and apply such skill to their creation and make them so beautiful that they become art?

Ayn Rand made it clear in The Fountainhead that designing a building was an artistc as well as engineering challenge. But in The Romantic Manifesto, Rand says that utilitarian objects such as cars cannot be defined as art. One of Rand's admirers, Michelle Marder Kamhi, repeats that judgment in dismissing a display of automobiles at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. http://www.aristos.org/aris-05/bmfa.htm

But if buildings, why not cars? If cars, why not furniture? For many of his residential designs, Frank Lloyd Wright created furniture that would be appropriate for the rooms. The furniture was thus an extension of the larger creation. It would be a serious mistake, then, not to see Wright's tables, chairs and lamps as works of art.

flw_book.jpg

Why should an object's functionality preclude is artistic merit?

Edited by Eric Mathis
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Why should an object's functionality preclude is artistic merit?

I don't think it should. I don't believe it's the same thing to say that something is art and that something is artistic. To say something is artistic is to say that it shares some of the characteristics of art, but not necessarily all of them, or the essential ones. So, it could simply be beautiful, or well-crafted, etc.

I have no problem with cars and furniture being in art museums for this reason. And also, the same people who go to view art are probably going to be inclined to apprececiate the other items as well, plus: what better place is there? For example, a history museum is a possibility, but some of the things might be new, and we are not viewing them principally as historical objects.

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Can art also be functional, or does it simply have to be something that is beautiful in its own right, with little or no functionality?  On the other hand, is it possible to take mundane, everyday objects and apply such skill to their creation and make them so beautiful that they become art?

My take on the art vs. craft issue is that art projects a world view and craft does not. Craft does not re-present reality and so it does not provide the mind the same benefit as art, which is a projection of epistemology, psychology and metaphysics, i.e. a belief system and a way of intefacing with the world from a mental standpoint.

In many other regards, they are simlilar, and I've seen plenty of crafts and everyday designed objects that were extremely artistic and have been much more interesting and exciting to look at than many art works I've seen.

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I agree that there needs to be elitism and a peer review with art and that not "just anything" can be art.

Having been through art school, I have had my fill of this, believe me. However, there is some truth in the idea that "anything can be art", although not anything can be good art.

While I'm not quite ready to open it up to "anything", following the definition that Ayn Rand set forth leaves a lot of room for art that may be bad, but still follows the definition of a "selective re-creation of reality according to the artists's metaphysical value-judgements". This is because there are so many epistemologies, and the various strains of art follow right along with the artist's epistemology/psychology.

For example, art such as Andy Warhol's soup cans, or other pop art which is basically a collage of images from pop culture, is similar to any philosophy that thinks our ideas are adopted arbitrarily from the culture around us. Impressionism is based on the various philosophies that downplay objective reality and reduce perception to unintegrated sense-data. Abstract Expressionism is derived from any philosophy that holds that there is no reality, or that reality is not absolute, and our perceptions are everything -- and are whatever we feel they should be. At the extreme end, "happenings" (a man crossing the street at 10:18 AM on Thursday is a work of art) and "found objects", which are as close to saying that "anything is art" as possible, are corrolaries of a "philosophy" that rejects systematic thought, or Zen Bhuddism, which more or less advocates existence without thought and action (!), such that any rock, any tree, any thought, any building or living thing, all have equal significance; they simply are.

At the very least, to say that these things are not "art" denies that there is an underlying belief system behind them, and prevents us from properly analyzing them.

It is certainly debatable whether or not some of the ideas behind these things are philosophy, namely: is a philosophy that is so bad that it ignores or undercuts truths that are critical to philosophy really a philosphy? However, inasmuch as a philosphy is a belief system, it is usually accepted as a philosphy, albeit a bad one. And similarly, many things may be accepted as art, but as bad art.

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I don't think it should. I don't believe it's the same thing to say that something is art and that something is artistic. To say something is artistic is to say that it shares some of the characteristics of art, but not necessarily all of them, or the essential ones. So, it could simply be beautiful, or well-crafted, etc.

That's an important distinction that I haven't made before. Certain pieces of furniture are clearly artistic, but they may not necessarily be art. The same would be true for cars and glassware, etc...

My take on the art vs. craft issue is that art projects a world view and craft does not. Craft does not re-present reality and so it does not provide the mind the same benefit as art, which is a projection of epistemology, psychology and metaphysics, i.e. a belief system and a way of intefacing with the world from a mental standpoint.

In many other regards, they are simlilar, and I've seen plenty of crafts and everyday designed objects that were extremely artistic and have been much more interesting and exciting to look at than many art works I've seen.

Thank you. That makes a great deal of sense.

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In The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand said architecture “is in a class by itself, because it combines art with a utilitarian purpose and does not re-create reality, but creates a structure for man's habitation or use, expressing man's values.” (p. 26)

But why a class by itself? What facts of reality would contradict the claim that car, furniture, and even clothing design combines "art with a utilitarian purpose" and "creates a structure for man's habitation or use, expressing man's values”?

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