What is art?

I had struggled somewhat with this question, most recently in my review of the course. I found it difficult to imagine how something, that was not created as a work of art, could be considered as such. This was particularly brought to mind when I visited the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts to look at items displayed as art but which were created for devotional, spiritual or even functional purposes. With the help of an explanatory sheet from the Sainsbury Centre it became clear how something, not originally intended as an art form, could nevertheless be endowed with the qualities which we would now describe as artistic.


No sooner had I thought that I am beginning to recognise what art is, than my thoughts were challenged again when I read an article in the Tate Magazine. In it Alistair Hudson discusses ‘Arte Util’, roughly translating as “art as a tool”. He describes it as “proposing moving away from a market-driven, object-based conception to a broader creativity that is fundamental to human activity, with art able to transform ordinary life and effect social change by reconnecting to the world and the concerns of people”.


I was not too sure what this meant as I read it, but further on he mentioned a “strong and defensive reaction to Assemble winning the Turner Prize last year, particularly for those heavily invested in a system based on control and connoisseurship”. This made things a little clearer. I recall seeing an exhibition of Assemble’s work at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery last year. I remember thinking at the time how interesting a project it was with artists living in a disadvantaged part of Liverpool producing functional works of art (I particularly remember the fireplace surround’s made of concrete, but which contained demolition material from the area”. Hudson goes on to describe our current conception of art as “an autonomous thing, created by genius, mostly distinct from the messy, ordinary world, separated from it by the frame, the museum and the market”.


This stimulating article challenge my conception of art even further than had occurred with a visit to the SCVA. I liked Hudson’s description of our current definition of art being separated from the real world by “the frame, the museum and the market”. Thus all those objects I had studied at the SCVA, and which I had difficulty conceiving as art, I now not just regarded as such but also as part of an old fashioned, exclusive, elitist view of art.


But Hudson is not saying there is no role for the traditional view of art, but that we need an even wider view of what constitutes art.


Once again my view of what is art is challenged and expanded accordingly – no doubt this is a process that will continue.