No Such Thing As Art
It is important to understand a word. Do we understand the word art? Or artist? As an artist, you begin to learn that ultimately you will be responsible to create and define your unique artistic practice, and so you begin chasing your tail. Tailspinning is a good description for artmaking, as is: tumbling, turning, running, looking, discovering, seeking, making, breaking and ultimately—creating (or cracking).
Creating is a word that can be coasted on as an artist, for a while… until you run into the question of, is what I’m creating art? Is a painting art? Is any type of painting art, made by any person, or machine? Is a sculpture art? What makes a sculpture a sculpture? Can a garden hose be a sculpture, can a pillow be a sculpture? Can walking be a performance, can talking be an art experience? Can a word be art? Can anything be art? If yes, why? If no, why?
Then the questions. What does art do? What is it supposed to do? What is it not supposed to do? Should art be purposeful? Can it not be purposeful? Should art inspire, delight, make new knowledge? If yes, then why not call it education?
There is a word that I love, haecciety, which means the discrete qualities, properties or characteristics of a thing that make it a particular thing. What is the haecciety of art? In my own quest to understand my pursuit of art making, I first think it is better said, my art being. I arrived to understand art as everything, in the footsteps of artists like Beuys, Kaprow and theorists like Dewey, but now understand there is actually no such thing as art. Yes, I believe I am an artist even though I do not believe in art.
How can I be an artist, if there is no such thing as art? Perhaps, there is art after all—but it is invisible. Art could be recognized simply as the free impulse to create. Then, perhaps, what we do and make could be considered artful, full of art. However, I think there are other words applied to what we imagine as artful, such as heart-full (holding the art in the heart) or careful (full of care, and separated out to be are-full) which might be better descriptors of the types of creation we could consider as art. Is what we create done with heart, or with care? I would argue that something could be made without those qualities and could be seen or experienced by the artist with heart and care, and then could be re-imagined and reconstructed as art, because of the participants artful lens.
I currently recognize in my own practice definite patterns, actions, and collections that create my body of work, and they include: relics of processes of thought and experiences, educational aids and ideas, re-purposed materials, functional and decorative objects, participatory learning experiences, chance, ritual and devised collaborative improvisation. I could also say I recognize living as my art practice. I recognize my studio to include: my bedroom, the kitchen, the woods, the city, my neighbor’s house, the classroom, and (my favorite) the wide barren landscapes of Iceland.
Why then be an artist, versus a sociologist, educator, explorer, activist, writer, cook, gardener and mother? Because as an artist I am always all of these and all of what I want to be, do, say, and make. Being an artist is the invitation to live my fullest potential, unrestricted by titles and disciplines.
As I become more aware of my joy, I recognize my path as an artist will continue to be in pursuit of beauty, truth and interconnection. Sometimes that will be found in the form of gathering acorns to make place based color, writing poetry, making sauerkraut, creating curriculum, researching, having community conversations, knitting a scarf, developing organizations, taking walks, or collaborating on interactive multi-media methods to translate color to sound.
Knowing that I am an artist creating artfully, the question is less important what am I making, but why am I making or doing it, and is the way I am engaging aligned with my values. The questions we need to ask ourselves as artists are less about the formal qualities of what we do but rather we should ask, what are my values and principles, and how am I living and creating with integrity?