So What Exactly IS ‘Art’? – by James Bovington

(From Google)
(From Google)

I’ve been thinking about ‘art’ recently. It happens sometimes.

More specifically I’ve been trying to work out what ‘art’ is. Not necessarily ‘what is art?’ because that opens up the forum for people to claim a single house brick on a cushion is art. They’re very different questions, since one deals with individual pieces and asks ‘is this art?’ and the other questions the nature of the ephemeral wisps of nothing we happen to actually call ‘art’.

That is to say I’m questioning the aspect, not the components. Anyway;

A while ago I found a video on Youtube that made my heart sing. I posted a link to it on my Facebook with the addendum “If you ever, EVER feel the need to ask me what ‘art’ is;”

The video in question is here:

There’s something about that situation that is so beautiful that I don’t know where to put myself. I think part of that is the knowledge that for most of these people there really isn’t a real reason to be doing that, it’s just fun.

On a similar note; a few years ago there was a particularly cold winter and Times Square in New York City got quite a lot of snow in one evening. What erupted from that were not complaints and injury claims but a huge snowball fight. There were a number of photos posted online (you can find them with a quick Google of “Times Square snowball fight 2009”) and they showed a bunch of strangers lobbing frozen rain at each other. There was one particular photo (which I can’t seem to find now, despite my almost invincible Google-Fu. I wonder if that makes it more special.) of a young man, arm extended in mid- throw with a look of such joy on his face that it made me happy for days.

Is that art? I think it is. Not the photos themselves, but the act. A gigantic, spontaneous snowball fight in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world is a beautiful thing, and to me ‘art’ is definitively “Anything Beautiful”. I’ve mentioned the only other definition of art I respect elsewhere on Creatabot. (Here, to be specific). To me, ‘art’ that exists only to annoy people isn’t art. If someone puts up a gallery of paintings of people being tortured just to provoke a reaction, that’s not art, it is provocation and anyone can do it; you just have to shout insults in a library to get the same effect. The effect being people realising that you’re a dickhead. The only difference is that the first dickhead has learned to paint and the second hasn’t.

Which leads me to the reason I was thinking about this; I’ve been quite ill for a couple of weeks, but that didn’t stop me travelling to London with some friends one day. I thought I was feeling better, but I wasn’t.

After a harrowing (but cheap) journey down we spent a long time wandering around. I don’t really remember it very well, due to being an idiot when I’m ill. So it was that I found myself at the Barbican, standing in a room with water pouring from the ceiling, in a patch of dryness that followed me around as I shuffled back and forth. I was in Random International’s Rain Room, and it was very interesting.

But is it art? I think so, mainly because it’s interesting. As far as I’m concerned ‘interesting’ and ‘beautiful’ are very often one and the same. I also think the fact that I was in a strange headspace helped it seem more surreal than perhaps it actually was.

So no, I haven’t really answered the question I posed in the title, but can you blame me? Art is a shifting, formless thing and beauty is so subjective that having a single term for it seems overly simplistic.

Essentially all we’ve learned here is that people being happy makes me happy.

Is that art?

James Bovington is a writer of many different things, although he’s confused as to whether any of it is ‘art’.

You can find him on Twitter at: @JBov or you can look at his blogs:

http://jbovington.wordpress.com AND/OR http://burndownthesun.tumblr.com

Unique Art Exhibition ‘Rain Room’ At The Barbican – London – 4th October 2012 to 3rd March 2013

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Rain Room
Random International
The Curve, Barbican Centre, London, UK

Admission Free

4 October 2012 – 3 March 2013

Known for their distinctive approach to digital-based contemporary art, Random International’’s experimental artworks come alive through audience interaction. Their largest and most ambitious installation yet, Rain Room is a 100 square metre field of falling water for visitors to walk through and experience how it might feel to control the rain. On entering The Curve the visitor hears the sound of water and feels moisture in the air before discovering the thousands of falling droplets that respond to their presence and movement. Rain Room opens in The Curve on 4 October 2012.

Kate Bush , Head of Art Galleries, Barbican Centre, said: ‘The Curve has previously played host to guitar-playing finches, a World War II bunker and a digital bowling alley. Random International have created a new work every bit as audacious and compelling – Rain Room surpasses all our expectations’.
At the cutting edge of digital technology, Rain Room is a carefully choreographed downpour – a monumental installation that encourages people to become performers on an unexpected stage, whilst creating an intimate atmosphere of contemplation. The work also invites us to explore what role science, technology and human ingenuity might play in stabilising our environment by rehearsing the possibilities of human adaptation.

The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, London

Opening times: Daily 11am – 8pm and every Thursday LATE until 10pm

Closed 24, 25 and 26 December, 1 January

Public information: 0845 120 7550

http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery

Admission free

It is possible you may get slightly wet. Flat shoes advisable.

The exhibition is supported by Arts Council England.

Rain Room has been made possible through the generous support of the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art.