Defining The Ambiguous

“Well he would just spray paint on a wall, and people would be like ‘Well My 12-year-old daughter could do that.’ How come you can make thousands of dollars when I could do that if I tripped down the stairs?” Alex doesn’t like Jackson Pollock. As countless others have wondered, why is what he painted so easily classified as “art”? Four of us newly discovered philosophers sit at awkward places around a desk in a classroom under the Business Building at San José State University. We tackle one of the hardest and most convoluted questions in our society, trying our best to find a single answer. I asked our group “What is art?” Big mistake… Never have I been thrown into such a vortex that led to countless other questions and opinions. Once we seemed to approach a unanimous understanding of one concept of art, we find that there are deeper tunnels to explore. Some of those tunnels met other tunnels, and others just halted. Some had too many forks in their paths, and had to be avoided all together. Either way, we had already embarked on a treacherous journey with no road back, spelunking and traversing the many nooks and crannies of our outlandish landscape. We had no idea what to expect.

Jackson Pollock - Galaxy Pictures, Images and Photos

Galaxy - Jackson Pollock

“Well… I don’t know… some people talk about Salvador Dali’s paintings and they say ‘He was high as hell, like what’s up with that?’” Alex likes Salvador Dali. We had just come out of talking about Jackson Pollock, and started trying to define art by means of understanding. Was it that if someone can understand a piece, it is art?  I think Alex was trying to point out that just because it isn’t understood, doesn’t mean it isn’t art. Earlier on in the conversation I had mentioned Picasso and some other abstract artists and paintings, stating that the meaning may be hidden, and can be understood, but we soon found ourselves exploring the thought of purpose. If the artist had no preconceived purpose, planning or personal motivation to the piece he or she is working on, is it truly art? I brought up an example: “When something is squeezed out of you, or required, can you call that art?” My roommate, Daniel had always teased me about drawings I would bring home to display in the apartment. He would ask when or where I found the motivation to make the piece, and if it were for a class, he would say, “That’s not art, that’s an assignment!” in a jeering, pedantic tone. Alex returned an answer to my question: “Oooh, it can count, I mean my professor now only does cups, like does stuff with the cups, like he’ll design them.” Alex is a sculptor, and for sculptors, cups are the basics. You do them every class, Alex says, even in the advanced classes. I agree that assignments have the potential to be art. I usually treat it as if it were born of my own motivation, “That way when I finish it, I can honestly say, I put my heart into this, like I really want this to go into my portfolio. In fact, in my design 83 class, we had to do these 9 icons, and they were too easy. So she’s like “Okay, get creative.” so I turned each one into a portfolio-worthy, stand-alone logo, and sold two of them.”

We soon found our compasses pointing toward the advertising world, where McDonalds and Burger King’s showy posters lie ahead. I ask if their advertisements they display on the windows can be classified as true art. McDonald’s ads usually consist of large pictures of burgers and prices, blinged out to the max to grab your attention. Megan, another philosopher, doesn’t deem these marketing ploys true art, but presents another point of view: “Well, I wouldn’t [classify them as art], but I’m sure there’s people out there who would think they are good.” The McDonald’s ads are missing basic design principles, especially with use of space. They are usually cluttered, and can use clashing colors. But it seems that that is what sells those heart attacks on a plate. It’s all about grabbing attention.

On similar turf, we address jingles for stores in commercials and on the radio. It is often the same situation as the advertisements for fast-food chains: no good composition or basic principles of music in sight. I described it as “something you wouldn’t want to listen to in your iTunes playlist”. I again say that it is not art, but Meliza, our fourth philosopher, comes at us with an idea we hadn’t considered. “I think that a lot of people in the commercial field would think that is the art of doing commercials, and then there’s the art of music, so I think that it depends on the people who are involved,” she said. What an interesting point of view. None of us had thought to think of it in the eyes of the artist who designed such a work. This gave us something to chew on for a while, and we discussed it deeply. Though I was still firm in my belief that art must have the basics, I had been open to a whole new idea.

We pondered more on how to recognize true art, but we four adventurers were soon to realize we had left behind something crucial to the journey’s progress. All this talk about true art, and how to spot it, but we had forgotten a small, yet important point. “So are you saying good art is knowing the basics? What if its just aesthetically pleasing?” Megan asks me. This opens up a whole new door to thought process. I hadn’t even realized it myself, yet, but a lot of what I was basing my opinion on was what “good” art was. Alex helps me out a little down the line by saying, “So the part that can’t really be determined would be if it’s good art, or if it’s just a job. Good art is basics plus the extra.” I totally agree with that. Good art has to have basic knowledge of composition and color theory, or pitch, or movement, or whatever basic concept you must master for that area of art.

Love Photography Pictures, Images and Photos

“Wow this is really much more complicated than I thought.” I sigh as we end our session. As a group, we still could not come to a final answer, just as I had expected to end this escapade. It was a long and treacherous path with no end, but I really believe we all had taken something from this session. We at least found a way to classify our thoughts, and learned to organize our thinking, making sure we knew what we were actually questioning. Though I don’t believe there was much of a point to be made from this adventure, there rarely is one definite answer to such an ambiguous question. In the end, we can at least agree that philosophy is in fact an art: the art of questioning.

dali Pictures, Images and Photos
The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dali
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