’cause everyone knows that’s how you get famous

First off, I take part in this week’s Overthinking It Think Tank, along with Matthew Wrather, David Schechner, Jordan Stokes and Ryan Sheely. Our topic: Best Logo. Vote for your favorite! (Meaning, mine)

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While we’re talking OTI, last week’s podcast – which I couldn’t attend – spent a lot of time debating What Art Is. When you hang out with literate, creative people long enough, this subject inevitably surfaces. We all know enough about the 19th and 20th Centuries to know that a lot of stuff that wasn’t considered Art at the time – Impressionism, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Chaplin’s films – now fits snugly within canon. We’re also snobbish enough that we don’t want to open the doors to every Jeezy-come-lately. Somewhere, a line must be drawn.

I have a question, though: why do we have to draw a line between Art and non-Art? What does it profit us to draw a distinction before the fact, rather than after the fact?

Suppose that Art has an objective existence, outside of “what people call Art.” There are some books, movies and songs which are Art and some which are Not Art. What if we accidentally let “Oops! …I Did It Again” into the club and it turns out that it’s not actually Art? What’s the downside?

Are future generations going to be confused if the definition of Art is too broad and lose (what little) interest they might otherwise have? Will the National Endowment for the Arts get swamped by bogus requests? Will a B.A. in Art History become even more worthless?

I ask partly tongue-in-cheek, but primarily because I think it’ll steer the debate in a more fruitful direction. I’m not saying that we can’t define What Art Is. But I firmly believe that, if we settle beforehand why it’s so important to have a clear, workable definition, the final definition we settle on will be a lot more solid.

So: that’s your challenge for today. Not a definition of What Art Is (though please, pitch in to that debate too), but an explanation of why it’s so important to have a clear definition of What Art Is. I’m curious.


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