Boundaries of Art

In the Hold c.1913-4 by David Bomberg 1890-1957Never let the fact that you know nothing about a subject prevent you from expatiating on it. So I thought, if that Duncan Campbell film had no soundtrack at all, I would never have doubted its fitness for an art gallery. Masks brightly lit against a black background- repeated shots of what looks like a half-finished imitation mask- no problem. The words, making an argument, made the difference for me.

Entering a “how many hairs make a beard” argument, I note that Tris Vonna-Mitchell’s film also has words; but I did not object there because they did not make sense. I mean, that words were repeated, phrases seemed disconnected, I had an emotional reaction to the voice, sounds and phrases which was different to being told a story. Stories are literature, not Art.

While I have no objection to installations, or found objects, in an art gallery, I drew the line at a documentary film, which I might see in an art cinema or on the telly. I expect different experiences in a cinema and a gallery.

But- how wide is the gulf between, or is there one? In an art gallery I wish to be moved. As I wander through, I don’t expect that I should see the video installation from start to finish. So any way an artist in an art gallery chooses to move me, is art. Or outside: I heard of an artist, paid by the Arts Council to kick a can down the road.

I am playing with the idea now. Something wilfully opaque, or using a language the viewer simply does not understand, which produces irritation or anger is- not an interaction with an art work which I find constructive or valuable. The moment when I think “That’s not art” then see it really is- I have my appreciation enlarged- is valuable, but personal: any art work might do that for someone, none can presume to do it for anyone.

My conscious mind understands things with words. Unconsciously, I understand more, but it is shadowy, like grasping at mist. I want art, and music, to talk directly to that visceral understanding. Rational sentences making an argument get in the way. Or, I pay attention to the argument, intellectually,

and am still moved, unconsciously, by particular emotive words, or by the images.

Of course I can walk past it. I need not engage. I cannot demand that everything should speak to me, though missed communication always distresses and perturbs me.

2 thoughts on “Boundaries of Art

  1. I would say it depends on the nature of the documentary film. As the intention of art is to hold a mirror up to life, and the documentary does that in an artistic nature, then it is art. If it is merely the self-aggrandizement of the artist, then they can shove it. I have no time for those who go about bumming themselves up (Messrs Geldof, Ure & Co take note).

    But when it comes down to it, the term “art” can cover a great many genres. I write poetry. Is that not art? I like to think so. Photography, film, writing, music, theatre, opera, ballet, and many more genres can all be considered to be art, and in that context, as long it is artistically created, then it should have no boundaries. Yes/no?


    • Let us separate out the questions.

      1. value. Poetry is part of The Arts.
      2. Practicalities. I don’t want to read poems off the wall in a gallery, except as an adjunct to visual works there. I want to hear it in a theatre, or read it in a book.
      3. Definitions. It is useful to have separate words for separate, sometimes overlapping things- literature, writing, poetry, prose, art, painting, sculpture, etc. The Artful Dodger did not create for art galleries.

      The documentary challenges me intellectually, giving a view of the presentation of African masks which I can accept or reject. This is a different experience from the other things in an art gallery, which speak to my emotional being directly. There is my strongest “No, it is not right in an art gallery” argument.


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