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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Just Because it’s “Art” Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Art » Just Because it’s “Art” Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Art

Just Because it’s “Art” Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Art

Rusty - September 12, 2007

One of the great, classic sketches from Saturday Night Live involved a Chris Farley character, Bennett Brauer, talking to Kevin Nealon during the Weekend Update. In this discussion Bennett would use finger quotes and say stuff like, I have what some call a “weight problem.” or I pop my whiteheads with the protractor I used in “high school.” The reason this was so funny is because the act of finger quoting (or quoting at all) is to communicate that the thing quoted is in some way of questionable legitimacy, and in Bennett Brauer’s case, “weight problem” and “high school” were of questionable legitimacy. And that’s just funny.

Similarly, in discussions about art it’s extremely common for people to put the word art into quotes (this seems especially true in discussions of art among Mormons). The reasoning seems to be the same: to turn it into something of questionable legitimacy. In other words, if you quote “art” you are suggesting it’s not really art (at least the way you’ve always defined it). Now, you’re surely welcome to do this but you should know that it will only serve to showcase your own ignorance rather than actually redefining art the way you want.

The definition of art has been the subject of debate for centuries and the reality is that it’s fluid, it has changed, is changing and always will change. And that’s a good thing. I’d hate to exclude Jackson Pollack’s work as art because it doesn’t fit within a 1920′s definition of art.

Most people who say “art” really just mean bad art so why not just say bad art? You’d be much farther ahead to allow artists to call whatever they want as art thereby freeing you to make an aesthetic judgment rather than a definitional one. In other words, if you really want to insult an artist’s work, don’t say it’s not art (pushing the definition is probably his whole point and he is likely to have a handful of rebuttals), just say it’s bad art. Besides, the more likely you are to put quotes around the word the less likely your opinion about art will be taken seriously.


  1. You rock, Rusty. You definately rock.

    Comment by tracy m — September 12, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  2. It brings to mind a radio interview with some musician. He said he didn’t care to have his work called experimental music and would rather have it called weird music. Experimental made it sound like he hadn’t figured out what he was doing.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 12, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  3. When I say “art” it means that I’m saying I don’t like it as art or don’t think it fits what I would define as art. That obviously doesn’t mean it isn’t art, nor does it mean it’s bad art. If I called it bad art, I’d have to further define it by saying “in my opinion this is bad art”.

    Plus a lot of Mormon “art” especially early on in the restoration, looks to me to be poorly done…I mean is the Quail at Winter Quarters really art?

    Comment by Don Clifton — September 12, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  4. If I called it bad art, I’d have to further define it by saying “in my opinion this is bad art”.

    You don’t need to qualify it by saying that it’s your opinion, just say it’s bad. Infinitely more people are more qualified to just say something is bad art than to redefine art.

    “looks to me to be poorly done” = bad (in your opinion)
    “looks to me to be poorly done” ≠ not art

    Comment by Rusty — September 12, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  5. The fastest way for any reasonably intelligent person to sound uneducated is to begin to talk about art. Especially in the church.

    I once had some John Birchers (both Mormons) over at my house trying to tell me that Picasso was a Communist (which he was) and that he was responsible for and his ultimate goal was the ‘destruction of art.’ Nevermind the fact that the forces that created and shaped Modern art can be traced back at least half a century before Picasso. I felt so sorry for them. And I should’ve called them on it. They were on my turf, figuratively and literally.

    Comment by John Cline — September 12, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  6. Some “context” would be helpful on this one. Like – are you refering to people who say “art” when discussing Del Parsons? Or are you talking about people who say “art” when referring to Pollock? Probably both? I don’t like it when people say “art” ,but there is a lot of stuff I just don’t “prefer” (its not necessarily “bad”). I recognize the skill and thought involved but don’t really “like” it. But everything has to be rated 1-2-3, cut and dry here at nine-moons I know I know. Can’t I say “average” art? Good use of color – bad composition?

    Comment by cj douglass — September 12, 2007 @ 4:42 pm

  7. John,
    That’s hilarious. I didn’t even know there were still John Birchers around!

    Not preferring it doesn’t mean it’s not art, just like not preferring a Ford doesn’t mean it’s not a car. Nobody goes around calling Dells “computers” and saying the “University” of Utah.

    Comment by Rusty — September 12, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  8. But see….Your post implies that no one has a right to say its not art. Your suggestion to use the term “bad art” implies that the legitimacy of the art in questions is always a matter of opinion. Therefor saying something is not art is to play god of the creative world and to suppose a level of authority that really no one possesses. Saying “bad” art makes it more a matter of opinion. I agree this is all as it should be…..

    What I was trying to say is that dividing it up into art and bad art is a little too black and white for my taste. That’s all.

    Comment by cj douglass — September 12, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

  9. BTW,
    DId you actually read my comment in #6?:) or just every other word?

    Comment by cj douglass — September 12, 2007 @ 5:16 pm

  10. So, this “blogging” thing, is it really the best means of discussing “art”?

    Comment by Kurt — September 13, 2007 @ 3:56 am

  11. OK, here’s a pretentious, and arrogant thought for you. When people say anything with “quotes” it usually means they don’t understand it. When someone, whether they are Mormons or otherwise, says “art” it usually means it doesn’t fit into there limited scope of what art is. Is art a painting that accurately depicts a scene in nature or is it an abstract vision of that same scene. I like Jackson Pollack’s work, not because I understand it but because it appeals to me from an aesthetic perspective (is that an ambiguous statement or what?). It doesn’t necessarily mean that I understand Pollack’s work but I’m not about to call it “art”. Likewise, the “quotes” can be used in similar ways to describe something we don’t undertsand or don’t believe like “science” or “truth”.

    Bennet Brauer was using the quotes to signify terms that he didn’t believe or didn’t think were as imprtant as other people think they are. That’s what made that sketch so funny. And in its own way, that sketch was art (without quotes).

    Comment by Lamonte — September 13, 2007 @ 4:24 am

  12. I will agree with you, Rusty, although reluctantly, because of an experience I had:

    I hated 12-tone row (music-speak here). I thought it was insanity and didn’t sound pleasing to the ear. I called it “music”. My professor was aghast that I would insult the 20th century genre with such distaste, and so he said something to me that I will never forget:

    “Just because you do not find it pleasing to the ear does not mean it isn’t genius. You don’t have to like it, but you need to learn to respect it.”

    After that, I did learn to appreciate 12-tone row. I still don’t like to listen to it, but I now appreciate the genius that it takes to compose something original out of a dire formula.

    Art is the same way. Yes, some of it is crap (literally), and we can hate it all we want. But there should still be some appreciation.

    [By the way --I have to admit here that I still believe there are some forms of "art". I don't think all art warrants the respect it seeks...]

    Comment by Cheryl — September 13, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  13. Most people I know will say bad art, or cheap hotel art. “Art” is reserved for what they think is porn.

    Comment by KyleM — September 13, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  14. KyleM-
    Thank you! That’s what I was alluding to in my last sentence. (is that how you spell “alluding”? Oops. I mean, alluding.) ;)

    Comment by Cheryl — September 13, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  15. Rosty, que te has hecho, no se si te va ha llegar este mensaje pero ha sido lo unico que he encontrado para localizarte, espero todo este bien con tigo.

    please if do you want sand me your cell phone number.


    Comment by Walter Kobasky Sierra — September 13, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  16. Sierra,
    ¡Que me des un email que functiona!

    Comment by Rusty — September 13, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  17. Hey que ondas, parece que estas vivo, el mail es es wa007ko@hotmail.com, son dos ceros antes del 7, write me plz.


    Comment by Walter Kobasky Sierra — September 13, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

  18. Cheryl,
    Your comment was exactly what I was thinking before I got to it. Especially with music. I think of Marilyn Manson as someone whom I think is very creative and intelligent in how he has gained his popularity and works a crowd, but I sure don’t respect him or what he;s done. Most tyrants of history were geniuses.

    Lol. Exactly.

    Comment by Bret — September 16, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

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