What is Art?

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I just completed a CalArts MOOC about “A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers” by professor Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D.

Thanks to the course format, content, and exchanges, I realize that my own art historical awareness has reached a new level of consciousness, and questioning.

Organizing the course thematically, in a way that cuts across histories, rather than chronologically, has helped me shift the focus from the classical -isms model to a more fluid interpretation of art history. In this new approach I found myself looking at the paintings through the eyes of the artists in their evolving roles.

From mere executors, with limited artistic license over time the artists embark into a journey that questions their roles, their times, and their understanding of art.

Jeannene’s focus on Velasquez’s Las Meninas, helped me grasp the importance of this painting as a major breakthrough in the history of art, where the complex relationship between seeing and being seen, who’s seeing and who is represented, cleverly shifts the roles of the artist with that of his patron. Painting is no longer just a “craft”, the patron is no longer the obvious subject, and the artist himself can actually be part of the scene not by simply adding his face to one of the figures–like in the past with Ghirladaio’s Adoration of the Magi; Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana; Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi.–but with Las Meninas Velázquez himself is active part of the picture, he is looking outward past a large canvas in his own right of painting the royal family who seems to be standing where we are.

I think this is the first time where the craft of painting becomes art. Velasquez ‘s Las Meninas becomes a turning point for a new generation of artists serving as an important act of provocation to the role and language of choice.

What surprises me is how far the freedom of choice has taken artists, to the point of destroying the artistic gesture of creating something new, in favor of a more philosophical practice of thinking, where the end-result is not important, but the idea behind it is.

If artists can claim that what they do is art, like Duchamp sustained, then What is art?

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