What is art and what isn’t?

Big question for this afternoon. What is art and what isn’t? Is it totally subjective? Can we throw a jacket in the corner and call it art? Someone did, and they called it art.

How about a pile of rotten meat? A picture made of poop? Is there a line we can’t cross?

As a visual artist and art lover, I’m a fan of beauty.; the Impressionists, Van Gogh, Turner, Renaissance masterpieces… you get the idea. Art History tells us that most art we love now, even works like Monet’s water lilies that are now considered classics and perhaps even a little twee, were considered avant-garde, outrageous or in poor taste when they were created.

I still think there’s a line between experimentation and gross-out, a huge jump from pointillism to Piss Christ. A case of the sublime and the ridiculous.

But this is my opinion.

Many would disagree. In fact, lots of people, including me, will defend an artist’s right to make whatever they want. I just won’t go and look at it.

My personal “what is art” line is quite close to the conservative side of art. I’ll freely admit that.

Even so, I had a bit of a shock this week when I found out that 50 Shades is really very tame by some people’s standards and tastes.

I know, right?

Now, I don’t read erotica and have only read a few pages of EL James’ best seller but I’ve got nothing against it. Anything that gets people reading and “connecting” is good, right?

Is it art? I’m not so sure about that but the story involves consenting adult characters who aren’t doing anything illegal, so what the hell.

Of course, my idea of what is poor-taste is different from yours, and that of say my mum and dad, or the government of the People’s Republic of Pakistan. Libertarians will fight tooth and nail for the individual’s right to self-expression unfettered by the thought-police.

But what about stories that document sexual abuse of minors, domestic violence or incest? I’m not talking about crime stories with a villain and a cop, but a fiction work that portrays such crimes? I was stunned to find out that such works are apparently published online with an active following.

Then I was horrified to read a thread in which people from all over the world defended a writers ‘right’ to write whatever they want. It’s subjective, they said, art always is.

In my opinion, such works are as far from art as they could possibly be, and have no place in modern society.

Call me old-fashioned.



  1. Sherry Lee

    I’m definitely old-fashioned as per your description as well. There has to be some kind of line, especially when it involves minors. Great post!

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