Sunday, May 24, 2009

Boundary Line

Anyone can be an artist, even litterbugs.

And from the same web site:

I seemed to have gotten myself into another bog concerning art and the artist, see here and here, the latter who says:
In my own practice I am, for the most part, very much a "straight" photographer[1] in the documentarist tradition. (I won't reproduce the footnote which is interesting in its own right)
I certainly consider photographs by Felix to be "art." And, to boot, so many are of the "artist at work."

I guess I'm a label sort of guy (this is perhaps from years of trying to put a label on symptoms so we have a name for it, not just the symptoms. Human beings are not able to take "I don't know what you have" as an answer. They want some definitive named disease, which is not always, in fact frequently is not, possible.) In any case, I do think people have an idea of what an "artist" is, at least their artist. And I would agree that I was wrong and it doesn't make a tiny bit of difference what the person is thinking (i.e. one's personal aestheic), it is the output which should be judged as "art" or "not art." (It is possible that there is not a clear divide between the two. This violates all I hold dear, Aristotelian that I am. But we may something called "fuzzy" art, like "fuzzy" logic.)

Take the case of the paint by numbers above. It is certainly conceivable that, with modern image ware, one could deconstruct the Mona Lisa in such a way that even a child (especially a child) could duplicate this great work. What now? What do we call the product of such an endeavor? Certainly not "art" by an "artist."

The the link to the Growlery above is to a post about serial photographs of the same thing. Time in a bottle (Jim Croce). Is each individual frame "art" or is the picking and choosing of the frames the secret? What about a wonderful picture taken by a monkey? (I would dearly like to try this)

Even more difficult to sort out is the whole area of fakes. Not just exact copies of known masters, but, for instance, paintings in the "style" of an artist that are judged, by experts, to be by that artist. The controverys over fake Vermeer's comes to mind. The Girl with the Red Hat at the National Museum in D.C. in particular. (I always hated that picture anyway). Interestingly enough, for our discussion:
"Most scholars agree that Vermeer utilized a camera obscura in the composition and execution of "The Girl with a Red Hat". It is possible that he chose a wood panel support to replicate the gloss of a camera obscura image, which was normally projected onto glass. In particular, the diffused specular highlights of the lion head chair finial resemble the unfocused effect of an image seen in a camera obscura. Vermeer expert Arthur Wheelock points out, however, that Vermeer did not simply paint on top of an image projected by a camera obscura. While camera obscura effects were emulated in portions of the painting, in other places, the expected effects are not seen.
Of course where would we be in our enjoyment of life if we didn't have Kyril Bonfiglioli's novels including "Don't Point That Thing at Me." (And here I always thought the "The Thomas Crown Affair" was based on these novels, but it wasn't. The first TCA came out in 1968 and the novels in the 70's. For a good review of Bonfiglioli see here.)

The more I think about it, the more it seems that the whole issue of art forgeries and fakes tend to put a perspective on the questions "what is art" and "what is an artist." People actually go to jail for art crime! Apparently:
Art crime includes forgery, fraud, theft, smuggling, and vandalism of fine art, antiquities, and ethnographic objects
Please, tell me, if you are about to be put in the slammer for art "forgery" does that not mean that someone has defined art? Futhermore:
Elmyr de Hory eventually became known worldwide as one of the most talented and greatest art forgers. Even after his death, Elmyrs works still attracted attention. Some of them even sold for the same prices as the originals. Like many famous painters, he would die penniless after a series of unfortunate events.
That last line has got to get to you.


Julie Heyward said...

[As Dr. C waves flutters, flaps, twirls and twittles his enormous red cape towards us, I turn to Felix: "Do you think just maybe he's tryinig to provoke us?"]I am fairly sure you could not make a perfect copy of the Mona Lisa. Paint brush strokes can't be reproduced by a printer -- they have to be stroked. As, for example, you can't reproduce a stretched rubber band without stretching the rubber band. And Leonardo brush strokes would require a Leonardo brush stroking machine. But Leonardo's brush strokes are a consequence of the sum of the life history of who Leonardo was at the time he made those brush strokes. So your Leonardo brush stroke machine would have to recreate the sum (but no more) of the life history of who Leonardo was at the time he made those brush strokes. Seems unlikely.

Here is a thought experiment for you:

Suppose, theoretically, you could make a perfect copy of the Mona Lisa or, if you don't like her, of some famous work of art that you (Dr. C) do like/admire/respect. Suppose I offer to let you have either the original or the perfect copy to hang on the wall in your home. You would not be permitted to sell it or otherwise make any money off of it, but you can have either one -- the original or the copy -- for yourself.

I claim that if you choose the original, your reasons for doing so would be very different from your reasons if you choose to take the perfect copy. In particular, as they are superficially identical, your reasons would hinge on the assignment of originality. Why?

Redjalapeno said...

If I may intrude...

I would hang the copy on the wall because it's the one I made. I would only want the original if it was given to me by the artist.

That answer points to my own opinion that copying art is not art, but copying.

Being influenced by art, and then creating your own art is different than creating a straight up copy.

Art is art, a copy of art is a reproduction, a copy, a Xerox if you will.

Not sure where I picked this up, but once upon my lifetime I heard or read this:
"Art is man's attempt to reproduce nature."

We could debate that phrase at length and not come to any definitive conclusion so I don't care to debate it.

My own definition of art:
"Any creative attempt to express the imagination of the human mind."

Some of Warhol's work is the closest thing to art that a copy or reproduction could be considered art, in my opinion.

Aside: found the sci-fi artbooks Doc, took a few hasty photos of the covers and a few pages and posted them. Will do a better job of it when I have more time.

Dr. C said...

Julie, If they were perfect copies, it would be impossible to tell them apart so it wouldn't make a difference. Of course if it is impossible to tell them apart from just looking at the painting in the frame, but if you looked behind the painting and you could tell, then it would make a difference if I were buying it as an investment (which you have excluded) or for its aesthetic value. Since the aesthetic value would be the same, then either one. But we rarely, if ever, do things for one reason. Part of owning the Mona Lisa would be telling people that it was the Mona Lisa. But that's not aesthetics. Its part of your marketing strategy which is bound up in art. With that I whole heartedly agree and also that it is an integral part of our Western Culture. But what about the same scenario in China (years ago)? I don't know. Maybe love of goodies (and bragging about them) are part of being human anywhere.

Thanks, as always, for your comments. "Copying art is not art" was something I tried to get at with art forgery. Except, there is two kinds: the copying of an art piece and the creation of a piece that is in the exact "style" of a famous. Again, Vermeer is the classic example. How do we judge a perfect copy or example? Legally it can send you to jail if you pass it off as "real".

What I just ruminated about above probably still holds. We are a mixed bag and, in spite of my idealistic tendencies, we probably always make a decision based on numerous reasons.

Throwing Warhol into the equation opens a new dimension since he is certainly considered an artist. I still think Duchamp's urinal is the classic piece of contention.

Redjalapeno said...

My own definition of art:
"Any creative attempt to express the imagination of the human mind."
Upon further review I have decided that I have contradicted myself. Perusing Julie's photos and blog provided additional material to ponder. The question that arose for myself was 'what if copying art is someone's creative attempt to express ideas and or imagination?'.

Defining art is similiar to the work of a sociologist or anthropologist - lots of grey area bounded by perceived concrete structure. I suppose art is defined by that group of social types known as artists, but that does not mean that definition is not open to various interpretations.

This is going to be a tenuous connection but bear with me if you can; the time I spent with the Makushi Amerindians last summer has redefined a lot of things for me. This is a group of people that until the last decade or so did not have a concept of time or money. It's one thing to read this in book, it is quite another to actually experience it.

While I learned a tremendous amount of anthropological techniques, I also learned a great deal about our society. It was very self-reflective not only personally but collectively. Before I start to bloviate ad nauseam, let me just say that definitions of anything are social constructs.
So, what do we really know about anything and who decides what knowledge really is?

Dr. C said...

RJ. Thanks again. Needless to say, I had to look up the Makushi Amerindians. Sounds like you had an interesting summer. I agree about the cultural context of everything we are and say. We just keep forgetting it in the day to day conversation. Humans have a great ability to disregard the obvious. Maybe that's why we have survived.

Julie Heyward said...


No question, copying and imitation are not only acceptable they are vital parts of most art to a greater or lesser degree.

What I was jousting at in my first comment was Dr. C's musings about copying that is pure imitation -- forgery.

To forge is to claim to speak with someone else's voice, not your own; to be someone else. That's not art, in my opinion.

[changing the subject] I am sure I can't begin to imagine how bizarre we look from the perspective of such a different culture as the Makushi Amerindians.

I shall have to investigate your blog for (hopefully) more details.

Dr. C said...

Julie wrote a very shivery coincidental post:

I'll post this on your blog too.
Dr. C.