I have followed the ‘ what is is art?’ debates for several years, often with bemusement from a non fine-art trained person such as myself.
|Cerulean Rendevous by Carole Choucair Oueijan (mosaic)|
My gut response is to reject the authoritarian, ‘closed-shop’ spirit that would bring about categorisations such as ‘this is and isn’t art / fine art / good art‘ and to question the interests of the authorities that are behind such exclusivity.
|Pict9339 by Lubosz Dobroslaw Kerway (mosaic)|
Today I read an interesting article in A-N Magazine (Artists Newsletter which is a UK organisation for artists) by Dr Jon Bowen, an artist and psychologist. He introduces a liberating proposal (drawn from anthropological studies on ritual) to stop categorising something as ‘art’ or ‘not art’ and use instead a response based on a continuum: ‘its very art, its quite art, its hardly art at all’. He also suggests a democratisation of how we define art – in simple terms, taking away the power of categorisation (how ‘arty’ something is) from the ‘authorities’ and handing it back to ‘ordinary people’. The role of ‘experts’, argues Dr Bowen, is to take the gut reactions to art of ordinary people and grapple with why? And so a new way of looking at art and artists emerges – with the definition of art being less categorical and more continuum, less establishment and more community-owned.
|Wet Nude by Mehmen Hakan Demirok (mosaic)|
That sits much more happily with little ‘ole me and rings true to the conversations I have with people in my everyday life. When talking to friends and family, there is invariably a huge divide between the response of Joe Bloggs to ‘art’ and that of the elite in the art establishments and academia. During my exhibition in December, I had three amazing, unprompted conversations (with different people at different times) all of which had been to Art School (and even lectured in Fine Art) and had come away bruised by the experience of elitism, authoritarianism and disconnection from ordinary people. What interested (and encouraged) me about these conversations was that they all came about because these kind souls walked into my exhibition and were touched by what they saw – they responded to the art on the walls and said to me (to paraphrase) “What you are doing is great, it is art, we can see your journey in it, it is unfettered by constraints to the establishment” and they urged me to carry on making heart-full art without concern about how people may see or define my work. Those conversations were more valuable to me than the sales I made.
|You Catch My Teas by Concetta Perot (mosaic)|
For me, the most striking challenge in Dr Bowen’s article was a sentence in response to the ritualistic power of the Turner Prize, ‘which says that “It’s art because the money says it’s art. It’s good because the money says it’s good”. Surely we have to challenge the power that we give to these monetized processes that tell us what is and isn’t art / good art? And that challenge starts at home. Do I see myself only as an artists when I am selling? Do I define how well I am doing by how much I am selling? I am not talking about the need to make a living (for that is an entirely different thing), but how we see our very selves and the work of our hands and hearts. It is a continual challenge and it makes me question why so many of us, until we are earning a certain arbitrary amount from our work, find it hard to say “I am an artist”. Why should this be so?
|Permafrost by Sonia King (mosaic)|
Closer to home for a mosaic artist like myself is the perpetual ‘is it a mosaic, is it mosaic art or craft, is it fine art mosaic?‘ debate where we encounter yet another layer of elitism at work. Did you know that there was a petition a few years ago to challenge the Tate Modern’s (the premier UK modern art gallery) refusal to allow contemporary mosaic art to be displayed in its hallowed walls? Because apparently mosaics were craft not art. Ehm! I don’t know if they have since changed their policy (if anyone does, please enlighten us). But the fact that such an institution would sanction this simple confusion of medium with process and outcome is astounding. Do we reject the medium of painting because we also use paint for DIY and decorating jewelery boxes and picture frames?
Mosaic is the medium, tiles are the paint of the mosaic artist and our hands – lovingly shaping and handling each piece – are our paintbrush. We are all journeying – our process becoming more skilled, instinctive and complex as we deepen our interaction between the medium and our inner and outer worlds.
What are these exclusive edicts really about? Could it be that mosaic art, so accessible (for even those who ‘can’t draw’), lending itself so readily to outsider-art and self-teaching, is a touch threatening? Does the making (and selling) of art really have to be kept out of the hands of the masses?
This post began as a simple desire to display the image below of a wonderful and challenging installation I experienced last summer and to pose the questions of where it fits within definition of genres (is it mosaic or not?). But, as often happens, my neural tap-tapping of fingers on plastic keys took me elsewhere! Glad if you would add your thoughts to mine.
|Mirror by Shaeron Caton-Rose (very mosaic or a little bit mosaic??)|