Is it art and are you an artist? A new way of looking at things…

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 perpetualis 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??)

12 Responses to “Is it art and are you an artist? A new way of looking at things…”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Rachel says:

    I'm kind of shocked that the Tate won't allow mosaic, but it will allow sunflower seeds, elephant dung and Tracey Emin's used tissues……hmm

    Also agree that what is art shouldn't be dictated by the size of Charles Saatchi's wallet (altho I do like the work of some of the YBAs)

    I love these pieces you've put up, they prove what a powerful medium mosaic is 🙂

  2. Louise Gale says:

    I cant believe the Tate! and agree with Rachel above. i really enjoyed looking at the images you posted above. Lots of inspiration and yes Mosaic is totally art – something of great beauty. x

  3. Sonia King says:

    Brava, Concetta! I especially love "this simple confusion of medium with process and outcome is astounding." I plan on quoting you on this one 🙂

  4. Concetta says:

    Silly Tate eh? Thanks Sonia *blush*. And thanks to Parker for reposting this http://alcoholicoutsiderartist.blogspot.com/
    and linking back to here 🙂

  5. jacqui says:

    Great article concetta, but do not forget even within the "Mosaic World" there are those who want to make Mosaics into an elite form of art in some way..by opening elite schools where only those who participate in these schools will be classed as accredited mosaic artists.
    BTW Caton Rose does not class her work as a Mosaic in any way..this is the description of her 'Mirror" installation:- A piece where video loops of underwtaer footage are projected onto broken mirror pieces which then refract around the room. This piece is based on the story of the Little Mermaid and explores ideas about self-image.
    I love how she quoted the Bible in this piece and it relates to what you are talking about too…"Don't compare yourself to others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best that you can with your own life" (Philippians)

  6. Concetta says:

    You are right Jacqui. I loved the 'mermaid' story that inspired Caton Rose's installation – really powerful. And you quote at the end sent shivers down my spine. You have made my day. I am going to write it and stick it where I work. Blessings xx

  7. DK Medlin ( CMA member) says:

    Conchetta, this blog note has made my day! As someone new to mosaics I have been reluctant to post my initial mosaics for fear that my efforts may not be worthy of serious consideration as "art." Perhaps "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" should be our mantra.

    Many of us cannot afford to pay $ 1500 a week (plus expenses) to travel to another state or country to learn from the "masters." We can realize our artistic "worth" by being open to exploring the creative urges which attracted us to mosaics in the first place.

  8. Virginia Gardner says:

    Bravo, very nice post, Concetta; I too was particularly drawn to the medium/process/outcome consideration. I am also glad to know the Caton-Rose piece, Jacqui's further explanation of same, and the recitation from Philippians. I know I should be familiar with the work, but I was not, so thank you! 🙂

  9. Brooks Tower says:

    A very fine post, Concetta.
    The only reason that I ever consider the question of what is or isn't a mosaic is when it comes to mosaic exhibitions and the space available therein. Everyone has some line in the sand – however much they do not want to think about it – and the continuum between very mosaic and not mosaic is broken when people are figuring out what to throw in the rejected submission pile.
    Mosaicists continue to hanker after acceptance of the art world, and the money that that implies. I know I'd love to be demanding and getting millions for a pIece I tossed off in a week or two. In the U.S., the hegemony of Manhattan over what has been accepted as "hot" in art lasted -perhaps still lasts – several decades. What becomes part of the canon has more to do with who has money and how they made that money and who they like to socialize with, who they like to impress, and who they like to compete with, than any inherent value of the art itself, so that the art narrative that academics tend to guard so zealously is little more than an artifact of power and historical happenstance.
    There are several routes to attempt to gain their favor, ranging from a familiarity and mastery of the accepted art narrative to becoming an approved "pet", or outsider artist.
    For someone like myself who does not follow art trends closely, the current art world seems so fractured and so devoid of reputability, I find myself unconcerned with acceptance but still desirous of the funds that acceptance might represent.

  10. sonyamacdesigns says:

    such an awesome discussion … maybe an e-course for you … I too got chills at that Bible quote … off to look it up!

  11. Concetta says:

    Thank you Dk, Virginia, Brooks and Sonya. Your added thoughts help clarify and progress my thought process. This perpetual struggle between rejecting 'worth' based on the power of money and knowing that we need to make living and should be able to make a GOOD living from our work. I guess we will live in this tension all our artist days and a key is not to sink into ether end of the extremity?

  12. Wow! In the end I got a blog from where I be capable of really obtain
    useful data regarding my study and knowledge.

Leave a comment...

*