If art can be anything, what makes it good?

Parks and Recreation really gets it right in this episode. Ron says, “it’s art – anything is anything.” And if you’ve been to an art gallery or museum any time in the past 100 years, you’d find this to be at least a little bit true.

It started all the way back at the turn of the 20th century. Marcel Duchamp was making “readymades” — random items that gain meaning with a little bit of artist attention (which I consider to be kind of a lazy way to comment on consumer culture). Now Ai Weiwei takes pictures of himself flipping off scenery, and extended videos of a dude smoking a cigarette are the things that make it into museums – the best of the best.

‘The Black Square’, by Kazimir Malevitch (1915)
So yeah.

Art used to be 100% representation, then once we mastered that, artists began giving their own interpretations, and then the invention of the camera just opened up a whole wild world of possibility and ambiguity. Technology has made everything possible, at least in terms of representation, so now it’s all about ideas. Since art has been made for thousands and thousands of years now, I feel like the art world is scared of running out of new ideas, so anything that’s original is good because most of the time it can literally mean anything.
Ambiguity is favored and not questioned.

The problem is a fundamental disagreement about the purpose of art – if you have different ideas about what it’s supposed to accomplish, everything will be totally out of whack when you go to figure out whether or not it’s been successful. Some people think that this whole idea-only standard implies open-mindedness, but I disagree.

“The Persistence of Memory,” by Salvador Dali, 1931
^all about the ideas

To me, the best art is cyclical – where it can go is the same place as where it comes from. It started as a spark that the artist grew into a concept and finally a canvas, and as you see it for the first time you’re able to see the idea as the artist developed it, until you finally found the spark where the work began. And the best part about art is the enormous chance of accidents – slight ambiguities that open up whole other realms and worlds of interpretations – a license that I think was taken advantage of.

At the very least good art has to be about something. It has to start somewhere and have a basis in some sort of concept, even if that concept is something as vague as the death of the American dream or the feeling of pain. Since art is something created for looking at, it doesn’t hurt if it’s beautiful too – and there are others who think that art is just there to look pretty. My favorites somehow find a perfect combination of aesthetics and idea that make for the most powerful pieces.

Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ (1511, fresco)
found here – my perfect blend of beauty and concept

“It does look sad, kind of. I’m sorry for stepping on you, Floor.” -Andy