Boundaries in Art

A few months ago I visited a local art musuem (largely because it was free). Although there were a lot of classic works there, near the front lobby was a small section of “modern” pictures and paintings. One of these pictures showed the small of someone’s back, his/her buttocks, and the top part of his/her thighs. “This is art?” I wondered. Then a curious thought hit me, what if I went home, dropped my drawers, and took a picture of my rear end and sold it to an art gallery? College tuition problem is solved!

Stop gagging, I didn’t and won’t do such a thing (unless I become very desperate for cash). But this experience started rolling in my mind the age old question “what is art?” or “what should be considered art?” As I dwelt on this more, I began to see that for today’s generation the question doesn’t so much rely on what art is, but it’s moreso a question of boundaries.

Today’s generation continually pushes for no boundaries in all facets of life, but especially in art. If only artists could have their way, then we would reach a new zenith of artistic culture. But is this really the case? Once you throw out boundaries, who’s to say what is art and what is not? You suddenly find yourself in this postmodern conundrum of “what is the true truth here?” Is art what the majority says is art or is there a universal line that true art rides on?

I believe there should be boundaries in art. Give me a box and tell me to work in it. A situation like that would cause my imagination to soar. What wild ideas could I come up inside the boundary line? What a challenge! In modern culture, take Pixar. Year after year they produce hit movies that outsell nearly all other movies on the market. What’s crazy is that they’re producing family movies so they have stricter boundaries to work in.  Yet despite this they have some of the more creative plots, jokes, and ideas out there.

Now I’m not saying that all art should be catered strictly toward family (though I see no harm in that) and I’m not saying art’s boundaries should be kept as small as possible. I see the world of art as a vast rolling plain, a continent if you will, bordered by an impassable ocean. Stay within the borders and you’re safe, but try to swim beyond the tide and you’ll find only doom and danger. So be creative, but within reason. None of this “artistic anarchy” trash. That will only confuse and ruin art. Go by the universal lines of moral art. It may feel cramped, but let that challenge you to create a masterpiece with what you have.

What say you? Agree? Disagree?

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7 thoughts on “Boundaries in Art

  1. I had a similar experience a few days ago as I visited a local museum which held an exhibition of modern realist art. One exhibit was a series of photographs called “Objects on street”. The artist made photos of common objects, such as a phone booth or a traffic sign. “Well, this can be pretty creative and artistic” you may think now. But the objects were not photographed in any special way, no interesting light/shadow patterns, no unusual point of view. I would even say the quality of the photos was bad, as if taken with a mediocre cell phone cam. What I thought was “Why the heck is something like this in a museum?”.

    And, like you, I came to the question “What is art?” My first answer was “Art is if someone creates something, with create = CREATIVITY”. But of course this isn’t an adequate answer because it still leaves us with the question what creativity is.

    The idea of “art within reason” seems to be good, but what are the boundaries? Who defines them and based on what?

    I think it’s impossible to find a global definition for what art is.

    1. i believe there are universal boundaries, though i may not be quite sure on their specifics. I certainly think morals are major fence posts. I also think a universal sense of beauty helps guard us. A lot of modern art is being done simply to be “different”, not necessarily to capture the beauty of a given scene. Does all that make sense?

      Thanks for the response! Anyone else?

  2. I think one thing you have to consider is that a lot of art (and the artistic movements) came about because people *did* push the boundaries. That’s how art moves from one period to another. Don’t want to be stuck painting like the Impressionists? That’s okay, do something a little different and we get into Post Impressionism. Go down the line and change after change later, we have Dadaism and Minimalism, too, which are completely different styles and “kinds” of art. So I wouldn’t say stay within the boundaries.

    I do understand what you mean, though. There is a lot that doesn’t fall within the moral circle of what’s good and right in the sight of God within art. And of course, as a Christian, there should be that boundary to stay within. But I don’t think it’s realistic to ask the art world in general to follow those sorts of boundaries… why would they? Many don’t believe in God- some in a more outgoing way than others; some hate censorship too much to go anywhere near that sort of mindset at all. I think it’s one of those things we have to deal with in a ‘modern’ world. And maybe you fight it somehow- maybe Christian artists need to do more compelling, God-honoring work live more like Christ and be more vocal about Him as they go along. (I think it’s a good idea to be like that anyway, myself, and it is something I’m striving toward within my own work and life.) Maybe that would help. But it may be one of those things that we have to find a way to deal with without giving in to the same mindset, same as a lot of other aspects of world culture today.

    I think a big reason we have people trying so hard to “be different” in the art world is because that’s how you get recognized. There’s not really original ideas anymore… just about everything has been done. What you can do is be different yourself- your style, your eye, etc. Some people try to be different by going to extremes, and that’s probably where a lot of your ‘bad art’ would come in. (I hesitate to say it’s ‘bad art’ because that’s going to vary based on who you’re talking to. Really, it’s opinion based. Abstract art may appeal to me (and it does) but you may hate it. That’s just how things go- doesn’t make it any less art.)

    I do a lot of self portraits… and some people wouldn’t call that art. They’d say narcissism, sure, or maybe ‘it’s just a picture of her face.’ And that’s an opinion. To me, though, it’s a means to use what I’ve been given to create something that stirs emotion and thoughts, that tells a story (whether mine or someone else’s or one I make up and feel needs to be shared). So there’s a lot within art that different people may or may not see as ‘true art.’

    I think the best art are pieces that tell stories, that move you, that make you feel something. Usually those are in some way appealing to the eye (aesthetically pleasing and all that), but sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes it’s bitter or ugly or makes you uncomfortable. And I think that darker side is needed sometimes (I’m not talking nudes. More like art that shows the broken parts of the world and not just the beautiful.)

    Anyway, that’s my two cents for now.

    1. I get your point, but maybe the boundaries those artists pushed were artificial boundaries that weren’t the “true ends” of art. But at the same time, I think there is a limit to what can be considered “beauty” and I know that there is art from post-minimalism and the like that has no order or beauty in it whatsoever..maybe that’s just my opinion,but it’s something to chew on.

      Still,let me make this point: there must be boundaries in art. Why? Look at every other area in life: there are boundaries and laws, not just put in place by man (which could become the faulty/artificial boundaries I just mentioned) but also by God (which are never faulty). So if in every other area of life there are perimeters, why does art have to be the sole rebel? How is it that art can have anarchy?It’s kinda silly, considering God’s work, that He instilled in our universe the need and provision for boundaries and yet left the door open for art.

      And I will grant that applying “moral boundaries” to “mainstream” artists is somewhat silly (though they are certainly not off the hook in terms of responsibility). And perhaps moral boundaries aren’t as important, at least in terms of art, as “beauty boundaries”, and this is a point I missed horribly in this post. There’s a point where something crosses the line from beautiful to ugly and therein lies the challenge for art: discerning true beauty and true ugliness. Let’s not fall into what the Bible characterizes as “turning good to evil and evil to good.”

      Thanks for the thoughts, Kristin! does that make sense?

  3. To the people at the time, they weren’t artificial at all. They had the style of the day that was what was considered art, and those who weren’t following that had a really hard time being ‘validated’ as artists (very few patrons, very few gallery showcases, etc). Those boundary-busters were ones who could see past that and insist, even when looked down upon, that what they were doing was art.

    That’s the trouble, though- “beauty” is such a subjective term. Like with the post-minimalism, you may not see a point to a specific work and may not think it has any beauty or meaning at all. The guy standing next to you at the museum, though, could be seeing the same piece and find some sort of connection with it, seeing the beauty and thinking it’s worth a lot. You also have to keep in mind that not every piece of art is about ‘beauty.’ Like I mentioned before, sometimes it’s about the ugly, the things that are going to jarr you and make you think or emotionally move you in a different way. To me, personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with that. Why should everything have to be ‘beautiful’ to be worth something? I guess my point in that is that art doesn’t have to equal beauty to be considered art.

    Oooh… see, when I read ahead things become more clear. So you’re talking artificial = man made. I’ll just throw this out there, though– way back when, ‘art’ was paintings of saints and Biblical scenes and such and that was just about it (unless you included the royalty/upper class who were often portrayed as saints). When that started changing, I’m sure people thought that was more of a set boundary than an artificial boundary. I don’t really have a point with that. Just sharing.

    I don’t think art is the sole rebel. It has the same God-given boundaries as everything else. We’re called to certain standards within the Bible and that’s going to apply to every aspect of our lives, including our art. As with everything else, though, those boundaries are often ignored because we live in a sin filled, broken world. There’s not much of a difference between someone having sex before marriage and someone creating ‘art’ that is bearly above pornography. It’s still sin. It’s still the same ‘rules’ being broken.

    As far as stylistic things go, I don’t see how any particular style could be labeled as wrong. Whether you’re painting a life like landscape or portrait or assembling rusted yard tools into a sculpture in someone’s yard- as long as you’re not doing something that is called sin in the Bible, what’s wrong with it? Art can be definied as deliberately arranging elements to evoke emotion or affect senses. I don’t think that gives it a small box by any means, but there is somewhat of a box there.

    One thing I will say is that yes, people do cross the line. I’m going to give you a horribly disgusting example- be warned. There was an article I read awhile back about a woman who supposedly forced herself to have a miscarriage and proceeded to create from it a piece (of ‘art’). (I believe they discovered later that she was faking that part for publicity, but still.) Did that cross the line? Absolutely. I feel sick just thinking about it. She had the art community up in arms, taking sides, etc. I was on a forum and said that it was wrong and she shouldn’t be allowed to do that, and was responded to with a (nicely spoken) reminder that it’s ‘not my place’ to censor the artistic actions of others. Well, I don’t really care, I still think it’s wrong and it is within my place to say so. Anyway… I see your point in that sense, but that example is pretty extreme.

    I agree, they aren’t off the hook in terms of being responsible for their actions; that’s clear in the Bible. Still, I think the idea of ‘beauty boundaries’ is still shaky (my opinion, not trying to get you to say I’m right or anything) because, like I’ve said- sometimes it’s the ‘ugly’ things that we need to see. (A photo of a starving child, for instance, is by no means beautiful. Still, it’s art and it’s emotive and moving and very often needed to see any sort of change for children who are living in that way. Just one example.)

    I think I do understand your point better now, yep. Thanks for the further break down. 🙂

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