What's Art, and What's Not

What’s Art, and What’s Not


While I’m no expert in the matter at all (I took art classes in Grades 7-9 if that counts for anything), I have, on more than one occasion, engaged in friendly debate over what constitutes art. Mona Lisa? art. SrGrafo’s comic strips? art. This stupid red square?

Okay, now you’re really pushing it. I wouldn’t call this art per se… maybe more like a colored shape. Of course, you might disagree. But hear me out! For I think I’ve reached a pretty foolproof classification system. You see, there are primarily two things to consider in distinguishing whether something is art:

  1. The intention
  2. The affirmation

The Intention

In other words, was it the intention of the artist to create a work of art in the first place? If not, then it shouldn’t be considered art. I find it hard to believe that a passerby could possess such authority as to claim the contrary. What a load of hubris to believe that they know better than the person who made it as to what that thing is in the first place. For instance, an artist’s rough sketch, uneaten banana, or slab of marble, don’t qualify as art. They are but a roadmap, a light snack, and a slab of marble in that order. It may be called art only after the artist chooses to declare it so. Not before. Of course, it’s all in the branding. Until something is branded as art, we’d likely not even know it exists. The art that we see and hear about, are precisely those things that the artist has chosen to brand as such.

Ok, so we have just established that for an artist, art is something to be declared, just like bankruptcy. But what happens after they claim something to be art? Well, we can agree, but we don’t have to.

The Affirmation

Art is transactional in nature. Someone creates what they claim as art, and someone affirms that fact. Since the one claiming and affirming are one and the same in the special case of the artist, they are indeed correct when they label it art. It is art to them, but this might not be the case for me, for you, or Winnie the Pooh.

Just as the artist reserves the right to declare it, we (individually) reserve the right to reject it. We don’t have to take their word for it, they could be crazy for all we know! They could call their banana taped to a wall art. But, no. They’re wrong. It’s just a banana - that’s a light snack remember? Regardless of what modern/contemporary art museums may wish to suggest, we alone decide what’s art, and what’s not (woohoo title drop). It is not up to them to tell us what to think. The people in this video for instance seem to suggest those white paintings to be art.

But they are not the definitive authority. They are merely an intermediary facilitating this discourse on behalf of the artist. This is often the source of disagreement when it comes to recognizing art: when someone presumes their beliefs regarding art more valid. Those people are what I like to call wrong.

No one else’s opinion matters. Not the art dealers’, the museum curators’ or the money launderers’. Just your opinion, and the artist’s. When there is an apparent consensus between you and the artist, then it is art . On the contrary, although we may respect the artist, if what was displayed merely an abundant lack of skill, then we may concede it to be in fact really, really bad art. So bad in fact that it asymptotically reaches a threshold known as an eyesore in the limiting case as x approaches infinity, where x is my apathy for figuring out how to continue this math metaphor.


For something to be considered art, the artist has to intend it, and we have to accept it (until then, it exists in an indeterminate state of limbo). This generally means that we need to recognize some level of skill, however minimal, by judging the effort required to create it. People may suggest otherwise, but you have the final say when it comes to art: it is your right. So stop worrying about what others think. Don’t let someone else tell you what is and what isn’t art.

Appendix: examples of what is and what isn’t art

P.S. As general rule of thumb, if you can’t find it in an art class, it’s not art!

2 Points

Eye wndr if this is G’s latest shot at creating a social network?

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