Something I think about quite often is what defines something as art. A confusing concept, in my opinion, especially as I wander through the Seattle Art Museum or the Art Institute of Chicago. I remember once in Chicago, I looked up to see a large five by five foot canvas. It had a presence of sorts but for me, but not necessarily in a good way. The canvas was simply painted green. It made an impression on me because it made me laugh. “Why is this even in the museum? Is this considered art? How much did they pay for such a simple and meaningless piece?”
Well, in reading In Defense of the Poor Image by Hito Steryl, I thought about this instance once more. She discusses the “poor image” and it’s role in the system of a new art involving the “ghost of an image.” While not labeling this new genre of art good or bad, she plays with the idea it exists and should be considered. Poor images may not be high quality, with data being lost in the swirl of sharing, but this is what defines it.
This pulls me into thinking about the world of fine art; a world of elites spending almost anything to get a Picasso or a Monet, juggling around the most prized and sought after pieces that exist today. I agree with the conclusion that the “poor image” has manifested a new type of art world because its ridiculousness is mirrored in the system of fine and elite art.
Yes, it is ridiculous.
I looked into some art pieces that have been sold for an absurd amount of money but are very much similar to the plain green canvas I saw in Chicago. In fact, I came across a piece by Mark Rothko (Untitled [yellow and blue]). This piece was created in 1954, sixteen years before Rothko passed away. This piece was recently auctioned for 46.5 million American dollars. Wow. Take a look at the painting here, so you can see what looks like an abstract painting of a Despicable Me minion. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand to an extent why someone would want an eight foot painting of a sea of blue and yellow. It is nice to look at. But why is it worth $46.5 million?
“This small group of ultra wealthy investors end up defining what fine art is,” is a great quote from the show Adam Knows Everything. In this episode, Adam explains how the world of fine art is really defined by collectors and rich people, and that art on the street is just as good or better as some pieces labeled as fine art. (You can watch the video here, it’s super short and interesting!)
So, this is to say, just as we label poor images with having little value, we randomly decide fine art pieces circulating among elitists are worth millions of dollars. Who’s to say they aren’t on the same spectrum of what defines art?
Maybe, the trouble with defining what art is, actually defines art itself.