Art can truly be judged by you, the individual, as far as you yourself are concerned, by only one measure. It is not a static but an energy measure. Do not ask what the art is or ought to be, for this is debatable and will inevitably lead to endless argument. Ask only what is does – not what it does to somebody else, for this again is only hearsay, but what it does to you. No matter how good a painting may be by any and all theoretical esthetic standards, if it does not do something special to you, Mr. John Doe, then it means about as much to you as a rumor of a love affair on Mars heard in a convention of Psychologists. –
Norwood MacGilvary in the article ‘Art and John Doe’, originally published in Pittsburgh Architectural Club’s ‘The Charette’ with excerpt’s reprinted in The Architectural Forum, May 1939
The quote from above threw a log on a fire that has been burning in my head for years (despite the apparent lack of fuel, but on the other hand, lots of space). It’s a straight-forward question and one that almost everyone disagrees with me on…
Can architecture be considered art?
First off, let me say that architects are not artists, at least not in the traditional meaning of the word. Architects can be artistic but what we make has to conform to standards and measures established by regulatory entities and it has to be evaluated in its ability to perform a specific job. The reason why architects have to be licensed to practice architecture is because we are legally held responsible in that our work is to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the general public. The title of ‘artist’ carries no similar amount of responsibility to the public at large. As a result, the work architects do can look great and have sculptural qualities but it transcends the label that defines art. Conversely, anything can be artful or artistic but that does not make it art either. Case in point: Seen a Jiffy Lube lately? Its scope may be defined by the requirements of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the general public but I feel fairly protected from ridicule in that they have never been considered the fruit of an artistic endeavor.
I know that I may have a fairly narrow definition of what is or isn’t art so I asked a bunch of people to tell me what their favorite piece of art was. I didn’t ask for their favorite painting or sculpture intentionally; this was part of my study – what do other people think of when asked to define art. What you see here in this post are some of the responses.
Almost everyone who added some text to their submission spoke to how their selection made them feel – which at worst is an ethereal quality that can only be described between people and never physically shared. I’m okay with that because I think art is a personal experience and since I have matured (debatable), I am not heavily influenced in what I like by the opinions of others – only I can determine if I like something or not. I believe that for art to actually be art, it has to accomplish a few things – the least of which is to demonstrate craft and skill in its creation. If I look at something and the first thought that comes to my mind is “I could make that” … that is an ‘X’ … in a bad way. I like my art to be “professional” because, between me and my daughter, I am up to my ears in amateur art. I want my art to represent skill acquired by practice, experience, observation, consideration, and study. I don’t necessarily need it to mean anything because that’s what I bring to the mix.
Some people might find this hard to believe but I hate watching the local news. I seek my news out through broader channels because the local stuff tends to focus only on the sensational. There is so much bad in this world, I don’t need to invite it into my house. The painting above – ‘Musician and Cat’ – that one’s mine and so is the Caravaggio. I actually have the ‘Musician and Cat’ in my house and I flew to London to get it (that is a great story that I will share if I ever meet you). I look at it and it makes me happy and honestly … I need all of that kind of art I can get.
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is about as close to sculpture as a building can be – but to me, it’s not art. It’s a fantastic building but there are other things in play that allow me to judge this place. There was great artistic skill needed to create a building and space such as this, but it took an army of people to execute the design – not just one person. That is another distinction that separates art from the artistic – singular vision along with the individual message from the creator. I still don’t think I’ve ever heard an artist explain their creation with “because I thought it would look good”. Of course, they thought it would look good but there’s a meaning somewhere even if they never explain it to anyone – which is okay because you don’t have to know why a thing is the way it is order to like it … but it helps.
I would like to thank some of my friends who took the time and responded with their favorite piece of art (or at least one they liked enough to tell me). If you sent me a suggestion and I didn’t use it, I apologize, I was hoping for 10 suggestions and I received about 30 (surprisingly, there was not one repeat in the entire bunch).
You may or may not agree with me, that’s okay, that’s actually important. This turned out to be a difficult post for me to write because some sort of back and forth dialog is needed to allow this currently one-sided conversation to go somewhere. I am not on a soapbox here as a pundit but rather reaching out to others to pull them up here with me.