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Whose Art Is It Anyway?

February 25, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 132

Oscar Wilde famously declared "All art is quite useless" in his preface to A Picture of Dorian Gray. He meant useless in the most literal sense of the word: it has not a means to an end, but an end in itself. The purpose of art, in other words, is to be art. Not communication, not political propaganda, not investment commodities.

The problem with art, or I should say Art, is that we tend to think of it as the exact opposite of "popular" -- i.e. for common people. We tend to think of Art in terms of stuffy museums and snooty galleries, and outrageously expensive black-tie opera, theatre, ballet and symphony events. Art is the arcane, esoteric pursuit of elites and critics who use a specialized vocabulary, attend closed conferences, and publish exclusive magazines and books). It is the butt of jokes, the source of stereotypes, the cause of resentment. In short, whatever it is, it's distant and unrelated to everyday people, everyday things, everyday values.

Or at least, if it is everyday, it's not considered Art. William Blake united verse and image in his work just like greeting cards do today, but no one would call a birthday card Art; Shakespeare wrote popular plays for the masses just like Andrew Lloyd-Weber, but Lloyd-Weber is already half-forgotten; Disney tells the same stories people have told for ages, yet some have gone so far as to criticize Disney for corrupting our cultural heritage (read: our Art). Do we really think Aladdin was the pinnacle of Middle-Eastern literary achievement? Sleeping Beauty is culture?

Think about garden gnomes for a moment. Or Velvet Elvises. Van murals, spoon collections, cheap pottery, or knitted afghan lawnchair covers. What they have in common, aside from their capacity to induce eye-rolling, nudges and smirks, is that they are made by and for people with little-to-no concern for Art. The Saturday afternoon Flea Market crowd, buying tea cosies made from recycled shirts or mailbox storks made of old re-bar and sheet metal, couldn't care less about the silly debates of PhDs. And, regrettably, vice-versa.

Go to the dollar store and buy a cheap ramekin for your Campbell's soup can creme brule recipe, bury it in your backyard, and wait a thousand years for some future archaeologist to find it. It will be priceless. Load a dvd with pop music, bundle up the scripts to "Two and Half Men", get some pictures of your last vacation, and stick them into a time capsule with instructions not to open it for 200 years. Those who open it will celebrate its discovery and build a shrine around it.

This is the lesson of the Arthurian legends: the point wasn't to find The Holy Grail; the point was to have a higher purpose that made life itself worthwhile, and the Grail search was the manifestation of that purpose. The same can be said of art: it's not that we have Art that matters; it's that all art is an expression of what we value, love, hate, and even just find pretty. Why is that only for Art School?

Brian McKenzie blogs regularly on social, political and cultural issues. Check it out at Leave comments, link related articles and help him in his mission to understand others first. You can also follow him on Twitter @BrianInOrillia

Source: EzineArticles
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