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What's the Art For?

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Issue: 8 Section: Arts

September 27, 2003

What's the Art For?

by Max Liboiron

Does anyone else find it odd that after 17,000 years of accumulating examples of art, people are still asking, "But is it art... what is art?" Can't we answer that question by now?

Science has been around for as long as art has been, but you never hear anyone ask, "But is it science?" One difference between the two is that while all former forms of art stay valid, only the most current form of science is "right." Renaissance poetry is still valid; measuring someone's head to determine his criminal tendencies is not.

One of the most recent ideas in art is that anything can be art. This was popularized by Marcel Duchamp (whom you might know as the guy who put the urinal in a gallery). His urinal declared that if an artist decides that an object is art and it's placed in an art space, then that object is art. A rebellion emerged (and is still alive and healthy today) against Duchamp's "readymades," but it's too late - the urinal stays. While you may or may not like this, it has been added to the accumulated ideas of what art can be.

So is it art? Yes. But still, what is art? Basically, from the cave paintings until tomorrow, art is a way of relating findings. In science, you investigate your surrounding world -- investigate the tendency for people to fight one another, or how the eye sees the colour blue-- and relate your findings and analysis in charts, essays, and numbers. In art, you investigate the world around you -- the tendency for people to fight one another, or how the eye sees the colour blue-- and relate your findings and analysis in paint, poetry, or sound. Art is an expression of experience: Duchamp expressed his ideas about the power of the artist and the limits of art with his urinal; striped paintings investigate colour relations; randomly pulling words out of a hat to make poetry expresses the subconscious (apparently).

If you find yourself confronted with something that you suspect is art but you aren't sure ("there's this big rusted metal thing in the courtyard at work. It's huge and long and I have to walk all the way around it to get my lunch"), try to figure out what it's investigating. Maybe you'll like it. Maybe you'll find that striped paintings aren't so "pointless" after all.

So it's all art. Whether you like it or not is another question entirely.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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