Saturday, January 20, 2007

But Is It Art?

I've just finished reading an engaging little book by Cynthia Freeland, called But Is It Art?.

The day before I started to read it someone was telling me about how he sees art in everything, so it seemed a nice coincidence that, only two pages into her book, Freeland writes that many people "would not distinguish art from artefact or ritual. Medieval European Christians did not make art as such, but tried to emulate and celebrate God's beauty. In classical Japanese aesthetics, art might include things unexpected to modern Westerners, like a garden, sword, calligraphy scroll, or tea ceremony.”

This resonated for me because I consider virtually anything made by human hands to be art ... not always necessarily good art, but art nonetheless! I also see art and architecture in nature. It's all there: form, color, line, pattern, compositional balance ...

I take particular pleasure in architectural detail. But I've observed that relatively few people seem to notice it. In Italy there are exquisite floors everywhere you look, painstakingly laid centuries ago by amazingly skilled craftsmen; but most people don't seem to notice what's under foot.

I feel fortunate to have "seeing eyes", and part of my purpose in creating Jane's Smart Art audio guides is to help others see in art and architecture what I see, and then to explore the historical context that provides meaning. I love the exploration process!

If you’ve ever wanted to learn a bit about art theory, but have been put off by arcane and pompous grandstanding, then I recommend Freeland’s lively little book, But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory. It’s very readable and – although not an in-depth review of aesthetic theory – enlightening: “eye-opening” in the sense of enlarging one’s ability to thoughtfully see “art” where previously one might have reacted with disinterest, perplexity, amusement or disapproval. Freeland is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, and an active member of the American Society for Aesthetics, so she knows whereof she speaks!