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is it art?
I hear this question more frequently that you might think, and oftentimes from a group of people you wouldn't expect it from.
Sure, maybe it comes up when a group's values are challenged by something. Maybe when grant committees consider a proposal. Maybe in high school art classes. But I also hear it from artists, which surprises me.
It's a silly question, and my response is: it's not for us to decide, and anyway, who cares?
The question arose again recently because of something that happened at "Supple," an exhibition at Warehouse Gallery — in a piece of performance art, D.C. artist Adrian Parsons self-circumcised himself. You can find a brief city paper review here, and if you want more information (or a look at the video) just search around the D.C. art blogs.
I didn't see the event, and have no real interest in seeing it.And I'm probably a bit more fascinated than I would be otherwise because I had planned on going to the opening and didn't.
But the point is this: almost predictably, reading about the performance, an artist from a local group wrote: "However - is it art? Unfortunately, I have to admit that yes, it is."
Why is that unfortunate? And what could possibly make you question if it's art?
I have a simple policy on this -- if someone makes something or does something and calls it "art," then it's art. As long as you're not hurting other people, that's the end of discussion for me. Why wouldn't it be? Who am I to question? And besides, why would I question? Am I so threatened that what someone else calls art could reflect differently on my own work, that I would want to try and cast out their own efforts? To relegate their work to some nebulous category called "unart?"
I have the same feelings about the word "artist". It's the ultimate unifier, and can and does apply to everyone. If you make art, you're an artist. In my book that pretty much includes everyone at some point or another.
Which makes "artist," and maybe "art," potentially ubiquitous labels. Meaningless? No, not at all. I think intention is just as important as result when you're talking about art. It's pointless to try and label some people "artists" and others not. I think I'd prefer a world where we're all artists, all trying to make things and do things that reflect our ideas, passions, dreams and, yeah, maybe even foreskins.
"Is it art," is just one of those questions that grates on me. If you want to call it art, I'll stand behind you. I may not like it, I may not want to see it, but entering a semantic debate over the "art-ness" of something that someone else did is silly.
Supple will be on display at Warehouse Gallery through May 12, at 1017-1021 7th Street NW. The show was curated by JT Kirkland, of Thinking About Art fame.
All Content Copyright Robert Walton