Who Decides What is Art and What is Not?

As you might imagine I receive a lot of emails from a range of artists, who are in different moods, from around the world.

Thankfully, most of these artists very appreciative, some are supportive, a handful are really angry and bitter, and a few are just crazy.

Here’s one from Jessica Greenman.

What you do not cover is the quality of the art. I’m extremely concerned about that, and indeed about there being no differentiation whatsoever between largely what is a personal hobby, compared with either great art or art of depth and meaning. I need someone who knows the difference between the two.

“Indeed.” I have to admit that this message made me laugh out loud. But then I thought Jessica may not be the only artist who is “extremely concerned.”

I don’t know about you, but even as an artist, the question of what is art and what is not art just does not make my top ten list of “extreme concerns.”

But since it concerns Jessica so very much it may concern you, so I’ll address it.

  1. Of course it’s not a news flash that art is, and always has been, completely subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  2. No one, particularly me, can possess enough expertise in every artistic genre and medium to offer a qualified opinion so I’m not going to even try. That’s why I don’t offer art critiques even though artists are constantly trying to pay me to give them one.
  3. There are already enough self-righteous art critics deputized by their doctorate degrees, so there’s no need for me to add to the mix.
  4. I’m opposed to censorship. I believe in free speech and a free economy that walks hand in hand. So even if I think your art is complete crap, I believe you have every right to make and to sell it.
  5. Could you imagine a business school that would only admit students if they approved of their products or services? Absurd right? That’s why I choose to maintain an art agnostic policy so I can fairly deliver The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester.

In fact, my students are not allowed to post their art in our private Facebook Group.

Why? Because I’m not teaching art criticism courses, I’m teaching eight foundational business and marketing courses where independent artists learn how to build sustainable micro-enterprises.

So Jessica, I’m just not down with the old school scarcity and permission based ways of the art establishment.

As a member of The New Creative Class I fundamentally believe that you should play by no one’s rules but your own.

If Rappers surrendered to the “concerns” of the taste makers in the music industry and only let them define what was “great art” and what music had “depth of meaning” versus what is merely a “hobby,” Rap music wouldn’t even exist.

And whether you like Rap or not, I respect the artists who took back their power by creating their own distribution and marketing channels establishing a whole new music genre.

These artists decided what was art, unleashing an influential cultural and economic force that can’t be denied.

I know that I’m not alone in thinking that much of the collection in the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art is crap.

Institutions like MOMA merely serve as a prop for the art market.

And I believe that the context of art museums is far too limiting creatively, they’re boring, and intimidating. Why is everyone whispering inside?

But their donors would hardily disagree with me wouldn’t they?

Do you see how futile this debate is?

We all get to have our own opinions and I don’t care to burn my precious time and life engaging in silly debates.

So who “knows the difference between” “great art” and not so great art?

Even though the art establishment complicates this question to profit, the answer is really simple.

Who decides what is art and what is not? Only the artist and their consumer.

Clearly it’s not me, not art critics, museum curators, gallery owners, and not you Jessica.

So with respect, while you are “extremely concerned” about differentiating between good art and bad art, I’m just more concerned with making art and selling art.

What do you think is great art?

How do you, or how does anyone, get do decide what is art and what is not?

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