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I do not have my works cited any longer, so there are references to works cited like so: [#] But these do not exist, so please ignore them. Life: A Work of Art? By Kelley Tillapaugh “What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?” The preceding quote is by Michael Foucault, a philosopher mainly in ethics. Nevertheless, it could definitely be applied to the modern view of art and life today. If you were to say the word ‘art’, the average member of society would almost inevitably picture something that they have seen in a museum. However, philosopher John Dewey believed that art, as it is commonly known, in museums, is actually cut off from real life and that, in reality art is a part of life. This means that true art can be any work performed genuinely and with passion While Leo Tolstoy, another philosopher, believed that art is purely an expression and representation of a society’s current religious and emotional development. These are two very different theories on what art truly is and how it exists and functions within a society. If a work of art is only something that can be viewed within a museum as many people commonly think of it, then what of the work done by professionals of a trade? If they are performing their work with sincerity, as proposed by Tolstoy as the most important condition found in the production of a work of art, then isn’t the outcome of this work, which was done with a genuine and/or emotional dedication, a work of art? As Dewey has stated, “The intelligent mechanic engaged in his job, interested in doing well and finding satisfaction in his handiwork, caring for his materials, and tools with genuine affection, is artistically engaged.” 2 When someone is involving themselves in a certain craft which they have a true passion and sincerity for, even if it is the production of something as commonly seen and used in today’s society as a chair, then perhaps that person is creating a work of art. If this chair is not considered a work of art, only on the basis that it is used as a functioning item in everyday life, then what of the everyday items that were used by societies in history that we now view as art? Items like ritual masks, weapons, and everyday objects like bowls, and clothing are now seen as works of art. What makes them a work of art as opposed to the things used on a regular basis in today’s world? If one were to ask themselves this question, the answer would be nothing. There is no difference between everyday items from an historical society, as opposed to the everyday items used in today’s society. Except that, perhaps, today many objects are massproduced mechanically, in factories. Therefore it is worth saying that in order for an object that
is seen or used in the current everyday life of an individual, to be considered a work of art, that it must have been created, with a genuine sincerity and knowledge of materials. Perhaps defining mass-produced goods from hand-produced goods is the sole difficulty of defining a work of art in today’s society. For instance, if someone decides that they are going to paint or create a decorative work to display in their living room, and the sole purpose of creating this work is for displaying it, this would not be considered art, because although it is being created for it’s aesthetic appeal, not everything that is aesthetically appealing is necessarily a work of art. As Ziff has explained, just because an image of an alligator can be appealing to the eye, does not mean that it is a work of art, because it was not man-made. This can be extended to items that were man-made but were not created with a genuine passion or sincerity. Dewey describes things as art, which in today’s average thought, are not recognized as such, things like music, movies, comic strips, and literature, as true art. These things are created with a passion and sincerity not found in the production of many other everyday things. And that the reason these are not recognized as art is because they cannot be put into a museum, and therefore are not generally viewed as works of art only because they do not have the ability to be displayed, in the same way that works in a museum are displayed. However, if you asked an actor what their passion is, wouldn’t you expect them to tell you that it is, in fact, acting? And likewise with a musician, would they not tell you that their true passion is music? These acts of self-expression are therefore definitely able to be defined as art, not in a physical or tangible aspect, but art nonetheless. Drawing from Foucault’s previously mentioned question, “..couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?” It is predictable that everyone’s life could, in fact, be a work of art. If someone lives their life passionately, sincerely, and their actions portray such genuine emotion and dedication to the portrayal of their life, is that much unlike being an actor, a musician, or a painter? Art, in today’s world, is typically seen as something valuable. Dewey also states that “The growth of capitalism has been a powerful influence in the development of the museum as the proper home for works of art, and in the promotion of the idea that they are apart from the common life.” This segregation of art from ‘real life’ is somewhat of a tragedy in today’s modern society, when we find that there are many people in the world today who just appear to be filling a position in society. How many people could you find on the street today who would say that they feel like their life has ultimately no real meaning? There are probably many people who, because of the fast-paced, multitasking society that we live in, never even seem to take the time to pause and think about what they are doing, why they are doing it, or what they truly have a passion for in life. This can be attributed to the fact that maybe living one’s life passionately is
ultimately frowned upon in normal society. Too many people are absorbed in making capital gains and meeting quotas, and seem to lose an important aspect of their lives, usually the artistic or passionately driven aspect, where they do something just for themselves because they enjoy it. Maybe there should be some kind of a societal revolution in thinking. Something that tells the general public, “Hey, it’s ok to do something you love, something you can feel pride in. Not everything you do should be about making money.” However, it seems that this kind of change in thinking could only be brought on by some massive event that would actually force people to change the way they live entirely. It feels as though today’s society tends to push you into the role of a money-making, “productive” member and people just tend to allow themselves to be molded into an idealistic image of the perfect working drone, just like everyone else, without even a chance to discover something that they can have a passion about. More or less, true art, if it can be seen as life in general, where it can be acted out with dedication, sincerity, and passion, does not exist. And the art that you find in museums is merely a visual record of someone else’s art or life. If every aspect of life in society can be, ultimately, a form of art, can we really say that objects or works displayed in museums are true art, or are they merely representations or records of art? More or less, art is really a living entity within a society, and not merely something that can be pointed at and stated ‘That is art.’ In the end, art is ever-changing because the theories on it change, and the theories about art change because the art itself changes, much like Danto’s idea that art and art theory feed off of each other, in a cyclical manner within the “artworld”, however, there is no “artworld” as he calls it, because art is a part of life and the world we live in, and not merely a separate world of it’s own. Although people still consider art to be something existing within a different world from our own, maybe without even realizing it, it is my belief that art exists, everyday, within everyone’s own life, in everything that they do. This being said, would it not make sense to live life to the fullest? In order to make the best out of things, an individual tends to live their life with sincerity, passion, and dedication. So is your life a work of art? And if it is not, why not, when it can be?