What is Art and who gets to decide?
Over the winter, I had the pleasure of meeting Klaus Ottmann, the newest curator at The Phillips Collection. He mentioned a secret passion for cooking. I have a public passion for eating. So it made perfect sense to invite a group of people over to talk with Klaus about what is art and who gets to decide, while Klaus cooked us dinner.
Klaus gave us some guidelines on how he attempts to understand art, which fired up some great discussion.
- Art attempts to answer the unanswerable questions. Who am I? Why am I here? What happens when I die?
- Language is limited in its ability to answer those questions. Art can get closer to the answers, but it can never succeed. Therefore, Art is about failure. Not in a depressing way because you at least have approached a better understanding. Artists have a special ability to get closer to those answers. Art embodies this struggle to understand.
- Some things like certain television shows, video games, advertising campaigns can be very creative, but that doesn’t mean they are Art. These things require a measure of success that Art cannot provide.
- Art is not functional, not decorative, not entertainment. Art is not made for pleasure, though one can derive pleasure from Art.
- Art is a very personal experience. It is a dialogue between viewer and Art. Sometimes you relate and sometimes you don’t. When you look at some Art and don’t feel good about it, you are probably feeling the same pain that the artist felt in creating it.
- Klaus prefers ambivalence and subtlety in Art. He doesn’t like the overt and obvious, such as art that hits you over the head with its political messages.
- Art is universal and transcends time.
- Television is not Art because it is an escape; instead Art confronts and forces you to think. Art helps you learn to cope and solve problems.
- Art is authentic, which doesn’t necessarily mean original. It’s not important to be the first. What’s important is to be true to yourself. Art expresses what is within the soul of the artist.
- Duncan Phillips said “Art has life enhancing power.”
I'd love to hear how others define Art.
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