“All art is quite useless.”
There is no denying Oscar Wilde perfected the soundbite well before politicians started to tweet.
This insightful nugget comes from The Picture of Dorian Gray. It begs the question: what is art? Simple enough; yet, simple is rarely easy. According to Wilde, its purpose is, in fact, no purpose at all. Beauty belies function. And yet, I look over to my KitchenAid mixer and must, respectfully, disagree.
It’s an interesting debate and historians have opinions. Where do you draw the line between art and craft, artist and artisan, or art from artefact and ritual? In Japan, gardens, calligraphy scrolls, and tea ceremonies are understood as art. Ultimately, it depends on your cultural point-of-view and the society that shaped you.
Art can be an idea given physical form. Oh boy! Now we’ve opened a bigger can of worms: what does art look like?
Last month was the opening of Kristin Krimmel’s exhibition, Love and Grief. Digitally produced text-based images printed on aluminum plates that explore the theme of loss and heartache. The Penticton Art Gallery received an open letter of two pages signed “Voraciously, I.D.J”. The author was “shocked” by the “audacity” of the artist, and critiques: “the work in question should never be considered remotely within proximity to the ontological category known as ‘art.’”
Fantastic! We’ve got ourselves a conversation!
How many times have you heard, or maybe even muttered yourself, “Wait a second, I could make that!” And here we are back to art versus craft, and the value placed on technique. But if art can be an idea, then that idea can be communicated in many forms — be it song, text or watercolour. You can duplicate its form, sure, but the idea still wasn’t yours.
Oscar Wilde also said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Just saying.
As a historian, I look at art as products of their time period, time capsules that open windows to the past. Michelangelo’s David says as much about Renaissance Florence as the Hugo Boss Prize installation by Hans-Peter Feldmann does of contemporary America, where $100,000 in one-dollar bills were used to line the walls of a single exhibition room. To me, they are both historical artefacts documenting societal values, politics, and norms; equally important, undeniably relevant.
As an art lover, however, I too, sometimes find myself in front of an exhibit and scratch my head. Like I.D.J, I have been frequently shocked, baffled and dumbfounded. But, more often than not, those are the very moments I am forced to think differently, to have a new idea or a change in perspective. Of course, there are still times where I continue to scratch my head. Surely, sometimes a box of pencils is just a box of pencils?
In any case, with art we confront our convictions, we become critical thinkers, we engage. So, come down to see Love and Grief at the Penticton Art Gallery and join the conversation. Find out what you think.
And while you’re here check out our workshop series Painting and Pinots; perhaps even sign up to create some art of your own! On Tuesday, Oct. 24, you can spend the evening painting a sunset in oils with our gallery’s very own Glenn Clarke, or in November honour your spirit animal with Louise Lambert. We are also accepting artwork for our Under $500 Sale in time for Christmas: go to our website to download submission forms. Break out those paintbrushes, you just might surprise yourself. See you at the PAG!
Antonella De Michelis works at the education desk at the Penticton Art Gallery and provides this column exclusively to the Western News.