The Line That Can't Be Drawn

The hardest lesson I learned as a young film student is how the concept of art is flexible. After all, how could someone yawn watching Tarkovksy? That’s pure art!. Tackling the subject of art is challenging because, as much as love, it is hard to describe. Smarter people than myself piled different definitions, that’s a philosopher job after all, and one day I settled with ideas I still consider valid today.

Foremost, there’s no such a thing as art. What I name as art is what Barthes calls punctum and Octávio Paz calls poetry. Something that punges you away from the object you’re watching, that brings back a memory you don’t necessarily know which. Something that is there, in the thing you’re viewing, but can’t be materialized. Art is something that takes you away from the thing itself and its purpose.

When something emanates art, it overlays the original definitions of the property. A chair is a chair, we could go Plato all the way into that, but when a chair becomes art, it is not a chair anymore. It doesn’t serve the purpose of sitting.1 That’s the point of Duchamp’s Fountain, in a bathroom, it is nothing but a signed porcelain urinal people would pee in all day long. In a museum, out of the toilet, it is stripped from its function. It becomes an art object.

Great artists shape their works by depriving their pieces of function. An artisan picks a boulder and creates a table, an artist carves a statue. By creating objects without a role, artists skip the first stage of summoning art, which is stripping functionality. You forget the sun warms you when you watch the sunshine.

Considering art is remembering, then creating an artwork is reproducing, as the artist tries to tame the art within a physical form. It is a frustrating and endless work. Blanchot wrote about this, saying how the next work is always the continuation of the previous. It’s never over. You also can’t reproduce what is ahead of you, that’s Barthes again, so the artist is always on the past tense. Everything related to art builds on the past.

Here’s where people miss discussions about design and apps, they all serve a function2, however, advertising and design itself became so subjective, it is hard to distinguish the blurred lines. Look how gestures are built, or skeuomorphism as a whole, imitating shapes and textures from our usual objects. Iconography is based on familiarity, hence the problem with floppy disks to save as a newer generation jumps in.

If creating art is reproducing, then where can we draw the line between crafting a painting and a user interaction? Perhaps on the origin of the work, as often design is built for others and an art object is made for the artist himself3. Even the design made to the designer himself serves a specific purpose. But hasn’t the work of art served for the artist to expel his remembrance?

Don’t lose your head on the subject. Everything can be art for the right person at the right time as the process of creation doesn’t matter for the viewer. When something is art, beyond losing purpose, it is already not what its creator intended. An application or a fridge, the world is what you see in it.

  1. I’ll be superficial in most conclusions here and you could break my knowledge thought in a blink, however, this is nothing but a rushed theory and I truly suggest you to read the suggested books instead of taking my word for granted. 

  2. Design is how it works, right? 

  3. That’s another frustrating tale of being an artist as the art object is the representation of what punges the artist and the artist only, there’s no way someone else can be affected likewise. Somehow, the work of art is always misinterpreted, while art can’t be interpreted at all.