What is art?

National Gallery 1

One of the perks of living in the national capital is the abundance of things to do on the weekends; and today has been a gallery day. Each year the National Gallery of Australia (the NGA), has a blockbuster that draws in the crowds from near and far. At the moment the art of Tom Roberts is the major exhibit, joining other smaller ones such as Black, and the general collection that I discover more and more of each time I go there. While wandering about the gallery with my companions, we came across some Indian art which prompted a bit of a discussion about what actually constitutes art in itself.

The picture above is of a hand-painted piece of fabric that had the more western or English ladies as its target market. The question was posed within the group, whether this was considered to be art, or was it a historical artifact that was on display that just happened to look pretty.

Which prompted me to consider quilts.

In the last couple of days I have been kind of following a “discussion” about gender and quilting – that I am not looking to get involved in. But as a sideline of that “discussion” was the assertion that the majority of quilts aren’t art, because the intent of the quilt-maker was one of warmth, not art. Looking through the gallery today I had some of these words with me, critically looking at some of the art, and asking myself if what I was looking at – hanging in the National Gallery of Australia – was in fact, art.

The intent of the person who painted the fabric was to make money, it was produced with a particular audience in mind and sold into that market. The fabric could have been worn as a scarf or covering of some kind, or used on a bed – it was not painted with the 100% intention of having it hang on the wall of a national institution.

Yet, it is a beautiful piece of art and it has value as art. Just like my quilts that are on beds, and not hanging on the wall of any institution.

Because looking at some of the art works at the gallery today, just because you can hand something on the wall and call it art, doesn’t make it art. Well not to me.


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