I’ve found myself in a handful of conversations with “creative types” lately that I disagree with philosophically — the categorization of creative work as “art” or “not art.”
There are a LOT of motivating factors to why someone would care to even categorize work as “art” or “not art,” but in the context of my recent conversations it has primarily been an effort to self-aggrandize.
Stop Calling Your Work ART to Make It Seem More Important
So this rant — a release of pent-up frustration — is an open letter of sorts, written to those condescending, self-righteous “artists” who are more critic than creative when they begin categorizing their own work to make it seem more important than it is.
- Categorizing things as “art” or “not art” establishes a set of rules that diminishes creativity and originality, especially for works considered “art.” By having such rules, someone trying to create art has to set limits on their own creativity to achieve the end-goal. Often times these rules are in place as a rejection of “commercial” work — the antithesis of art by definition of those who care so dearly about the term. The problem with this way of thinking is that commercial work has adopted quite a few time-tested artistic techniques, so to reject commercial work is to reject some of the most fundamental tools in the artist’s toolbox. This leads some artists down the “avant-garde” path, which can sometimes produce original and inspiring results but most often it produces very obvious ideas that are just as cliche as the commercial works they are trying to rebel against.
- It’s impossible to define art objectively, so even if you are working under the (completely arbitrary) guidelines of “art” that you’ve come up with, and you are being careful to avoid things that would make your work “not art,” you may still produce something that people consider “not art.” It’s too subjective! Even if you did try to define art objectively, it would have to become such a general, all-encompassing term that it couldn’t possibly be used to exclude any pieces of work. Here’s an example according to Wikipedia: “Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory, or performing artifacts — artworks, expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.” So…
- Either everything is art, or nothing is art. If everything is art, then you have to include the unique plumbing configuration or electrical installation in your apartment or house, even though you might not want to consider the plumber or electrician an “artist” because you want to be part of a more exclusive group. If nothing is art, then there’s no reason to use the term.
And anyway, you are spending too much time talking about creating, and not enough time creating. You are creative to the extent that you actually create things, and you are a critic to the extent that you sit around critiquing things. Make a choice.
Some may read this rant and argue that I am doing exactly what the self-aggrandizers are doing. Just as they use the terms “art” and “artists” to condescend, I am doing the same thing by writing something criticizing their actions as if mine are more superior.
And you’d be right. That’s exactly what I’m doing.
But, if you really think about it, isn’t it futile to try to categorize things as “art” or “not art”? In my (not very) humble opinion, you should instead celebrate the imaginative or technical skill on display in all pieces of creative work. Having less skill does not make the piece less valuable. On the contrary, the very act of trying to produce something is something that should be celebrated.
If you categorize things as “art” or “not art,” you run the risk of discouraging others from expressing themselves in a creative way, and I am philosophically opposed to that kind of behavior.
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