What is Art ? What is it made of ?

We might be able to get an answer by exploring Classic Art temples such as The Louvre, looking at French Impressionists painting,  Italian Renaissance sculptures while passing in front of Ancient Egyptian art works to find out ? But according to the French artist Marcel Duchamps, what makes art is you and me : the public.

“It’s the viewer that makes the art work”. This quote from Duchamps is a summary of what is Art out of many : the interaction of a piece of art with it’s viewer or the other way around ? In early 20th century, Duchamps have been the turning point of Art, influencing a change from a passive interaction with it’s viewers, to an engaging (sometimes forced) interaction, troubling our minds and questioning society.

This new vision opened the door to new possibilities, with Readymade objects, performances and so on… Bringing the public to take part to the art work. Though I will always have in mind the very first episode of Black Mirror, where the fictional UK Prime Minister is forced to comite outrageous acts in front of the whole country, in the end revealed to be for the sake of art. So where are the limits of Interaction in art ?

I would say that there are no messages in art, only significations, and as an act of creation, it is strongly influenced by a social context. Art exists to inspire us, makes us think about others issues (like the viral video clip of Childish Gambino “This is America” which depict the contradictions of American culture) and maybe react on our social context. But it happens that art is going too far and take in hostage it’s participants and viewers.

This hostage taking of the public by art, sets us in sometimes inconfortable positions and therefore push us to react. By looking at the Untitled (Sculpture That Eats Salad) from Arte Povera artist Giovanni Anselmo, the public is the reason such readymade and non art materials becomes art. We all go to the museum to find Art, but is everything presented in a museum a piece of Art ? Such a question might be answered in various ways, but brings us to question society status quo and react.

Untitled (Sculpture That Eats Salad), Giovanni Anselmo – 1968

However, some Art interactions are going beyond museums to reach actual and political issues. In 2001, Christoph Schlingensief created the performance Please Love Austria where refugees were put in a closed environment. Broadcasted on TV, the public had to vote for the least preferred one to be sent to jail. This fake democracy orchestration generated controversy and reactions, highlighting a current socio-political crisis in Austria. But is Art beyond the laws ? As the hostage taking became real, shall Art ignore human rights ? or was this performance a human rights reminder ?

Please Love Austria, Christoph Schlingensief – 2001

Art might be related to the viewers interaction, but not every kind of manipulation and orchestration should be put under the name of Art. Today, expressing racial and controversial statements to the world might be excused because they are “performances”, blurring the limits of what is Art and what is simple manipulation.

I guess Duchamps by revealing what was the essence of Art to his view, might have opened the door to new artistic possibilities, by stating that art was not only about painting and sculptures, but it also brought chaos. Art is a constant changing process and we might just be at the beginning of a new creative era, but to me, this becomes the perfect moment to redefine our ethics, and really question what is Art and what’s not !


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