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Cassandra Slack
Professor Watson
FYS 145-02
October 13, 2015
Defining Art
For generations art has been produced, interpreted, and appreciated in a number of
different ways. As a growing society, we are constantly refining our values and reconstructing
what is considered art. Collectively there is a consistent redefinition related to what pieces of art
are worthy of a major gallery exhibition. In my opinion, art is only art when a piece consists of
both skill and meaning. Without a combination of these two dynamics, I believe the work would
either be poorly-crafted or beautifully pointless.
The artist and professor, Lari Pittman, produces examples of work skillfully executed
with both ideas and expressions. The artist was born in 1952 in Glendale, California. Pittman
studied at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1970 to 1973 and went on to receive a
B.F.A and an M.F.A at the California Institute of the Arts, in Valencia, California in 1974 and
1976. Currently Pittman works as a Professor of the Fine Arts at the University of California, Los
Angeles. As an artist, Pittman paints contemporary artwork fusing historical techniques with the
impression of pop and street art. His pieces have been viewed in several major galleries
including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New
Pittmans painting, Flying Carpet with Magic Mirrors for a Distorted Nation, depicts a
grotesquely beautiful scenario, integrating historical references with modern culture. In 2013, the
painting was exhibited in Pittmans show, From a Late Western Impaerium, at the Museum of
Modern Art, New York. The piece was one of the three flying carpet paintings in the
exhibition and measures to 108 inches tall and 360 1/8 inches wide. Flying Carpet with Magic

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Mirrors for a Distorted Nation was created using cel-vinyl, spray enamel on a canvas-covered,
wood panel, divided into four separate sections.
Growing up surrounded by the cultures of his Catholic Columbian mother and atheist
American father, Pittman developed a hybrid state of mind. His diversity is reflected and
experimented with in his art through techniques and styles often seen in other cultures. Pittmans
astounding ability to infuse multiple cultures within his art displays unique taste and skill. The
Philosopher John Dewey would likely value Pittmans work as art because of his ethnic
depictions. Cynthia Freeland, the author of, But Is It Art? : An Introduction to Art Theory,
discusses Deweys theory of what art is, Dewey knew that the language of art has to be
acquired. He did not define art as Beauty or Form, but said instead that it is the expression of
the life of the community (Freeland 64). Part of Deweys theory of art states true art highlights
the life of the community, allowing individuals of diverse cultures to appreciate and understand

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different types of art language. As Pittman involves references of Imperial Rome, Colombia,
Mexico and America in his art, he opens a new window in the art world for various people enjoy.
While viewing Pittmans Flying Carpet with Magic Mirrors for a Distorted Nation, it
becomes apparent the methodically layered paintings of pattern and portraiture represent a
complex political meaning. Portraits of leaders during the capitalist era are obscured with
expressions of trauma and deep aggression. Pittman uses their expressions to infuse an essential
theme in his work. The philosopher, Leo Tolstoy, would likely define Pittmans work as art
because he uses feeling to portray meaning. Written in, Tolstoy's Art and Thought, 1847-1880,
the author, Donna Orwin, explains Tolstoys definition of art. Orwin states, Tolstoy agreed with
the men of the forties that feeling was primary both in nature and in man. Art, as the voice of
feeling, more truly represented reality in its deepest manifestations than could science, the voice
of human (logical and dialectical) reason (Orwin 22). Tolstoy automatically refers to art as a
voice of feeling, stronger than any other form of nature. Pittmans work is art because it reveals
the violence and inequity during the capitalist era with expressions of pain and distress.
Pittmans painting of aligned mirrors captures the effect of a tarnished political economy
in everyday life. The reflections in the mirrors of distorted people in unsettling conditions take
the viewer from the past to the present and on to the future. With a specific interpretation the
viewer questions the effect of the economy on its people. Arthur Danto, an art theorist and
philosopher, would likely justify Pittmans work as art because it gives the viewer material worth
interpretation. Daniel Herwitz and Michael Kelly, the authors of Action, Art, History :
Engagements with Arthur, define true art in the eyes of Arthur Danto, Danto thus describes how
the concept of art is realized in or by the works themselves, though it is his own act of
philosophical interpretation of these works that makes the art act explicit. Like Adornos view,

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Dantos really does depend on the relation he assumes between himself as philosophical critic
and the works themselves (Herwitz and Kelly 54). In the passage, Danto addresses the
importance of meaning behind artwork and the viewers interpretation of that meaning. Pittmans
hallucinatory work allows the audience to determine there is an idea behind it as a result of wellmanipulated structure and expression.
Pittmans skillfully-crafted, social-political paintings connect to various cultures, portray
human-expressions, and depict meaning. With these three factors present, and many more
unlisted, Pittmans work is correctly defined as art.

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Works Cited

Freeland, Cynthia. But Is It Art? : An Introduction to Art Theory. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford
Paperbacks, 2001.
Herwitz, Daniel Alan, and Kelly, Michael, eds. Action, Art, History : Engagements with Arthur
Danto. New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press, 2007.
Orwin, Donna T.. Tolstoy's Art and Thought, 1847-1880. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton
University Press, 1993.