What is Art? Or: The Emperor’s New Clothes

Sometimes we are forced to leave familiar paths, and ask ourselves some very basic questions. One of them could be: What is art anyway?

Nowadays, almost everyone takes pictures on their mobile phone, and many also upload them online. This can create a hype, especially when someone gets many subscribers and “likes” on their Instagram, Facebook or YouTube account. One could think that if there is so much public interest for it, that it must be art. Even galleries and museums are taking interest in such phenomena, and put the works on their wish list.

Even after studying art history and creative arts for three years, I must admit I don’t know if one can easily define art. You can sometimes distinguish between art for ‘the people’, which everyone can understand when they see it, and ‘elitist’ art, which only very sophisticated experts can ‘understand’. It seems that the more complicated and hard to understand the art work is, the closer it is to this type of art. In these cases, the experts who presumably ‘understand’ the work give it an extra dimension by explaining things in it, that even the artists themselves didn’t know or think about when creating them…

If you see and understand the content of an art work immediately, then, according to this point of view, it is not artistic enough. Therefore, many of the most appreciated artists create works, which can’t be understood. This is exactly what makes them so appreciated. A paradox? Not really! This is the chosen manner to be considered ‘artistic’ and ‘sophisticated’. In the analogy of Hans Christian Andersen’ “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the artists are the tailors, the experts are the king.

Peter van Straaten, a Dutch cartoonist whom I very much appreciate, gave this phenomenon a funny visual reflection. Look at his cartoon: “Wow”. You see a gallery visitor (or is it an art expert?) standing astonished in front of a huge painting, which, as YOU can understand, means nothing at all. At the same time, the artist smiles, almost winking at us to say “Yes! I’ve caught him in my net!”.

Peter van Straaten - Wow

Peter van Straaten – Wow

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