Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What is Art?

Nina from Nature Remains wrote a post this week called "What is the Nature of Art?". The answer was a quote by L.A. Seneca that says, "All art is an imitation of nature."

While in New York City The Becka and I visited the Museum of Modern Art which is in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Centre. My father's parents were artists and Grandad T. had an art shop north of Toronto. Many beautiful framed oil paintings of landscapes, still life and portraits filled the floor space. For me, art was humanly created, recognizable beauty. The MoMA stretched the definition of art to the beyond the limit for me. Even my artistic daughter found many of the displays difficult to comprehend.

Light was the medium for many exhibits. In the first picture, yellow light absorbed all other colours leaving everything below appearing black and white.

The light on the left shone in a mirror and the reflection made a perfect circle. Amazing!! In the same room a Kodak slide projector clicked through blank frames automatically shining white rectangles across the room. Astounding!! The rotating prism was more interesting as the colours on the wall changed with the progression of the colour spectrum. There would be no need to paint the walls if you owned this nifty unit.

Many everyday objects such as dishes, kitchen tools and a helicopter were there to be admired. Some artist redefined the ceiling fan. In a large room, a regular fan was suspended by a chain from the ceiling and it swung in a large arc in the space above viewer's heads. You can see the couple gazing in admiration at the work of the creative genius whose work we know must be art because it is on display in New York.

Another room had displays of crocheted and knitted objects. My sister-in law Shirley as well as Ruthie from Nature Knitter have created many fine pieces that should be in the MoMA . And I do think handwork like this is art. Other exhibits seemed to be creations of seriously disturbed and/or perverted individuals while others looked like nursery school art or the doodles I draw when I am in boring meetings.

We had just completed a tour of Radio City Music Hall with its classy Art Deco interior and spectacular stage before coming to this museum. Perhaps I was tired or somewhat out of tune that I did not really appreciate much of what I saw in this art museum. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Going back to Nina's quote, I can see art in nature all the time. This Osprey nest is as intricate and useful as the crocheted blankets in the MoMA. And it was made with only a beak and dried sticks.

And the combination of light, air and movement made the clouds of an approaching thunderstorm look stunning in the sky yesterday.

We also went through the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is on the east side of Central Park. This was a more traditional art museum and the displays were far easier for me to understand and enjoy. I do enjoy the effects of light, shape and colour and admire those who can paint and sculpt and weave. My camera is the only tool I can use to create my own art...something of beauty and meaning to me.

How do you define art? Perhaps you have an idea that will make you famous...something worthy of a space in the MoMA. My niece Melissa commented on one of the pictures I posted on Facebook from this museum...

...apparently I've only been one shot away from artistic fame my entire life....I've got a nice pink fan in my room; think it's too late for me to become an artist?


  1. I like the idea of art you can use--hanging on the wall is useful but vases and plates and rugs and shawls and earrings are my favorite types of art. Georgia O'Keefe said that we should make everything we do artistic, when we write letters, when we serve food to our families or when we get dressed in the morning, we are all artists.

  2. I have a feeling I would have been looking rather perplexed the entire time I was in the MoMA. I'm not a "modern art" sort of girl truly. Don't "get" a good bit of it. Nature is indeed art in it's purest form.

  3. Ruth--reading your Art post makes me think of why it is WONDERFUL to have an art history major in our family.
    When we visited MOMA or the Met with our daughter, she would help immensely in our understanding of the artistic vision behind the works that caused me head-scratching.
    I tend to think of art in literary terms as well--and to some extent it has to do with the VISION that drives the creation.
    What is art? You could also ask--what is beauty? what is truth? The answers will be as varied as the people answering!

  4. I love your statement that something must be art because it is displayed in New York City. My feeling is that if someone must exhaustively explain the artist's intent in order for me to understand it, then for me it isn't truly art. To paraphrase a famous line, "I know art when I see it."

  5. We were driving home from town the other day and the clouds were fantastic. The hues/colors in them ... I wondered how any one could paint them and capture them in that same glory. Not even photos would do them justice. Truly, one can't beat God the creator, when it comes to art!!!!

    Beth's comment reminds of Edith Schaeffer and I agree, we need to make our world esthetically pleasing, both for ourselves and those around us ... we all have it in us to be artists.

    I also can agree with ncmountainwoman ... if it takes a big long explanation ... it's not doing the job, making the statement it was created for.

    Interesting post.

  6. Ruth,

    I love the handmade works of art the best and your photos. I can crochet, knit and write, which I believe are all works of art. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    The best pieces of art I've ever seen were in nature. When we think about it, that Osprey is an artist genius. Imagine making a nest like that with only beak and wood.

    Thanks so much for sharing. I enjoyed my visit and are now off to read about the proud parents below. Killdeer bring back memories of childhood, as every spring they made nests along the country road where we lived.

    Blessings for a great week.

  7. Anonymous4:52 pm GMT-4

    Very interesting Ruth. I love art and seeing how artists capture light.

  8. Ahh, the ever present question, perlexing as it is. Sometimes it seems we are all being duped like in the story of the Emperor's New clothes! But, my art professor from the University of Maine always would shout, "Art is About Ideas!" He drilled this concept into our minds. So, yes, art is about beauty in some instances, but it is also about ideas and getting you to think and question. Though you may not have enjoyed this art, it certainly prodded your mind and made you think! Look at this great post that you wrote becasue of it. Mission Accomplished!

  9. Anonymous9:52 pm GMT-4

    It has been such a long time since I have visited an Art Museum! Also love the Osprey photo!

  10. Yeah, that place was too weird for me...the Metropolitan Museum of Art made up for the weirdness from MoMA.

  11. Anonymous6:48 am GMT-4

    My friend Deb is an artist. I don't always get her art... But once she explains it to me, then I get very intrigued by it.

    Once I attended a dance presentation. The choreographer did a lecture/demo first to explain dance elements. Then we watched the performance all the way through. Had it not been for the lecture/demo, I would have gone out scratching my head.

    In other words... sometimes we need to be educated to appreciate what an artist is trying to say... the ideas behind it, as Katiesbirds pointed out.

    Sometimes I don't want to work that hard to get it. I just want a pretty image, or nice colors and textures...

  12. Beth- Good definition of art!

    Jayne- Perplexing? Yes! I too am more of a traditionalist.

    KGMom- I knew there had to be someone out there who understands these exhibits. My area of expertise is so concrete and factual. That is a hindrance when looking at the work of right-brained individuals.

    NCMW- I like your definition too. If we recognize it as art, it is art.

    CS- There is no beauty greater than what we can see in creation. And it is always changing and renewing itself. You are an artist for sure with all your creative endeavours.

    Mary- Thanks. You are an artist with words. I don't think many young women now know the arts of crocheting and knitting. For many generations these skills were passed along, but we are too busy now :-(

    April- You are another person who sees art in nature through your camera.

    Kathie- LOL! You are right. Missions was accomplished as I stretched my brain to understand the MoMA.

    Monarch- You had better plan to take up you invitation to NYC soon!

    Becka- We have to go back!

    Jennifer- A guide would have been helpful. And we were tired, making it difficult to think outside the box.

  13. You know, the thing about modern art is that it's often so much more for the artist than it is for the observer. The majority of people probably don't get modern art, myself included despite some artistic background. The artist may be trying to get you to think, but all I could think of seeing a floor fan hanging from the ceiling would probably be ".....uh huh. Okay, what else is there here?" and this is probably true of most visitors. I doubt most people put more thought into art than "that's neat/boring" or "that's pretty/ugly" or "that's unusual" or "that's well done". It's a little like those novels you'd read in English in school - I suspect 95% of the people who happen to read them outside of school aren't going to get the message out of the book that one analyses in class. Sometimes I wonder if there's even a message there, or if we're putting words in the author's mouth that they never intended. I always hated English, I felt we were ripping apart a good story and we should just enjoy the story for the story. Analysing them to death always ruined them for me. So I guess the same would apply to art for me, and if it's not done for its appearance (regardless of whether or not I like said appearance), then it's not really art, to me, it's a statement, and perhaps there should be a Museum of Modern Art and a separate Museum of Modern Statements.

  14. Seabrooke- Thanks for your comment. I agree that a lot of modern art is not understood by the average person. Our city purchased an exceedingly ugly red sculpture which is known as "the intestine". It sits in front of one of our municipal buildings and its meaning is obscure. I agree with your assessment of English classes. What is done to books can be compared to the aesthetic beauty of the human body vs the human body being dissected in an anatomy lab. Informative, but not enjoyable.

  15. Hi Ruth,
    I'm catching up here.....
    I was excited to see some needlework exhibited as art. I've never thought of myself as an artist, but maybe I need to rethink this knitting "hobby" of mine!


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