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May 23, 2005



The definition of art per se is just one of the many facets of the debates regarding art. Ultimately, even if an object is defined as art, it boils down again to who will accept it as art worthy of recognition.

Manila Times columnist Rome Jorge recently commented about the definition of art and the National Artist issue in his column, which could be found here: http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2005/may/23/yehey/life/20050523lif2.html

I particularly like the last part...

"Some critics of the National Artist Awards harbor elitist prejudices based on Western concepts of “High Art.” They criticize the inclusion of comic book artists and other Pop Art fields. For such critics, art is only those works that can be categorized traditionally such as oil paintings and marble sculptures. What about art that fails classical definition such as virtual digital sculptures, wearable art, interactive installations with modern dance or rap/spoken-word?

Francisco Coching is a superb illustrator and storyteller of a dozen classic comic book series. Why can’t Coching, or Pinoy Rock personified Joey Pepe Smith for that matter, be a National Artist?

Sacrilege? Yes. Debatable? For sure. Scandalous? Absolutely. But to put things into perspective, both classicist Fernando Amorsolo and modernist Victor Edades, bitter enemies in their lifetime, heading opposing movements in Philippine art, are now National Artists sharing the same visual arts category."

So much for art, or its definitions.


True, true. I can't dispute any of that. I certainly wouldn't want to go to the opposite reduction ad absurdum from John Carey's and say that art is only something in a museum or art gallery. What I was trying to say is that for any "word" we share a common idea of what it means. Now for some words that will be quite fixed -- the notion of a chair, for example, will not change a great deal (though even there ...). The word "art" though is built on shifting sands. The works of world's most expensive artists, Van Gogh and Picasso, for example, were not regarded as "art" by many people in their lifetimes, yet now they stand right at the centre of the Western tradition of visual art.

Nevertheless, despite the difficulties I believe we have to stick to our guns and continually try to define what "art" is, while acknowledging that we will never please everyone, and in fact what we say today may not even be true tomorrow. To do what Carey does and say that something is a work of art if one person thinks it so seems to me a complete cop out, as absurd in its way as saying art exists only in museums.

Thanks for the interesting comment.

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