Modern art, or more specifically, postmodern art characterized by abstract expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, and Franz Kline, has been decried by art critics (of a less refined taste as we are commonly told by the self-proclaimed elite art critics) as being trash and not “true art”. However such a distinction begs the question, what is true art and how do we go about judge it in an objective fashion? The first question will determine the latter since, if we cannot find an objective definition on which to stand for what constitutes art, the second question regarding how we should go about judging it will only be an exercise in expressing our subjective opinions.
An objective definition of art
Wikipedia defines art this way:
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects the senses, emotions, and/or intellect.
I would argue that art is creative communication. Art includes the items commonly accepted to be art, such as books, movies, paintings, buildings, photography, and music. The realm of art also includes items not yet included in the commonly accepted definition of art. Contrary to Roger Ebert, even videogames can be works of art. I would even go so far as to say that mechanical devices, mathematical formulas, programming structures, and heavy industrial machinery can all be works of art as well.
That is, they can be so long as fill two criteria.
- They have a definitive message to send
- That message is portrayed in such a way that is is possible to be understood by the recipient
Postmodernism, with its emphasis on the deconstruction of language, has had a profound impact on modern art. We can see the beginnings of this trend in Pablo Picasso’s work wherein common subjects were distorted so that the recipient had to work at discerning what the artist was attempting to convey. And we can see the culmination of this trend in Jackson Pollock’s work (among others) wherein the viewer is expected to bring their own subjective meaning to whatever work was being viewed.
This approach is wholly consistent with a postmodern framework. However since it lacks an intended message from the author to the audience, it cannot rightly be considered art. Even if the objective of the author is to combat the notion of objective truth itself, the lack of clarity in communicating that message to the audience prevents it from being considered art. In order to remain true to the tenants of postmodernism it would need to be open to being deconstructed itself and reconstructed in whatever the subject wished, destroying it’s ability to communicate anything at all.
So there is art that cannot rightly be categorized as art and it has nothing to do with our subjective feelings on the matter. We can honestly say that men like Pollock did not produce art by their new style of “action paintings”. How could they? They admittedly had nothing they wished to communicate and thus the viewer is left with nothing to learn from their paintings. At best these postmodern pieces are like glorified Rorschach tests designed to act as a cognitive mirror for the viewer’s mind.
look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for –Jackson Pollock
Reynolds News had it right when they wrote that “this is not art–it’s a joke in bad taste”.