Amazing, I know, but... is it art?

The only other term that I hear more often than "art" these days is "amazing". Which is probably entirely due to the fact that my life is full of amazingness or something, but still lacking -to some amazing extent- a tiny little bit more of art in it. But... what is this art exactly?

To be honest, I keep going back to this art-enquiry issue over the years it seems. And funnily enough, I find myself quite in the same position and of the same opinion today as I was almost two years ago. So much so, that I get drawn into discussing it with the same person (if not in the same language) and I find pretty much the same objection to his definition of art. The main difference is that, this time I'm writing a post instead of a comment - so that the third time around I just throw the link at whoever brings this issue up again and I'm done with it.

The issue in a nutshell is that the proposed definition of art is oversimplified to the point that the only way in which it could stand is if art was just an invention, a fiction or a dream. True, not exactly any invention, nor any dream, but the kind of invention and dream that actually has an impact on people's lives for the very good reason that its authors have the means and will to do exactly that: impact people's lives and society as a whole. Otherwise put, the elites, the lords, the top, the holy and mighty, what have you. The truly amazing.

As the proposed definition goes, those truly amazing (the elites) actually create art, by virtue of being the ones to decide what is art and what is not at any given time and place in the world. And it's true that those with real power in the society are the ones who choose art and artists and thus, through their choice, define what is considered art in their time and place (and possibly also at a later time, to some extent). In the original author's words, art is anything about which a lord says "this is art". However, this approach glosses over the underlying reason why some are chosen as creators of art and others are not (and it's actually more the creators that are stamped as such, rather than the art itself).

But is there any underlying reason why the elites choose one to be an artist and not another? I quite think so, for the choice does not seem to be completely independent of the artist and what he produces. It might be arbitrary to some extent, in that it is a not a direct consequence of a specific characteristic or even achievement of a piece of would-be art. Indeed, there might have been 100 painters just as good at painting as Cezanne, who didn't make it however to be just as known, just as "the artist", just as the Post-Impressionist and precursor of Cubism as Cezanne. This doesn't mean however that the elites who chose to recognize Cezanne as an artist could have chosen with equal success just about any other random person in the street. It doesn't mean that it was not Cezanne who created art, that it could have been anybody else in his place.

Surely, one could argue that truly powerful elites can ultimately impose absolutely anything as art and absolutely anybody as artist. If it's praising Lenin, the father of the nation, then it is art and if it's not praising him enough, than it is not. Indeed, there were attempts at implementing in practice precisely this definition of art as something entirely the creation of elites' dreams and actions. However, I can't think of any such attempt that actually worked. Perhaps finding one would give more grounds to this definition.

I also fail to see how exactly can one jump from observing that the elites define what is art and what is not (well, if they wouldn't have the power to define what is what in society, they wouldn't be elites, would they) to the conclusion that elites actually create art. While the elites can choose from what exists and they can also perhaps control the means (creators and techniques included), they can't however truly control what is created - not that there weren't attempts at that too, but again, I can't seem to find one that succeeded. Perhaps the closest that comes to mind is Michelangelo's very famous and very much imposed work on the Sistine Chapel. However, Julius II might have forced Michelangelo to work on the chapel, religion might have forced the topics of his paintings, the materials and practice of his age might have forced the technique he used, but ultimately his creation was still his responsibility and achievement. The Sistine Chapel is what it is (and art at that) because of what Michelangelo did and because he (and not another) was the one chosen to paint it. If one wants proof of that, one can easily go and compile a list of other churches with painting equally commissioned by popes, but to others who were far from equally Michelangelo. The issue here is that Michelangelo was in fact not just any painter, much as Julius II was not just any bloke with a funny name: it was not as much Michelangelo's gain that Julius II chose him, as it was Julius' gain to recognize Michelangelo as an artist. Whose amazingness was more amazing there, huh?

Going back to this idea that art is really created by the elites and not by artists, the only way I can see this construct holding is thus if one considers art to be an entirely arbitrary and endlessly adaptable concept, without truly any place in the fabric of the world. If it can indeed be constructed to be absolutely anything (and ultimately nothing) and thus potentially created by absolutely anyone. If it is something defined solely by the power with which it is imposed, if such imposition could truly be achievable in the oversimplified manner stated of a stamp from the authority that "this is art," if it is indeed through imposition rather than recognition that art is created. Otherwise put, if art is nothing but an invention, than indeed, it is the invention of the Elites. Which would be a pretty amazing invention, I give you that, but... not really art.

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