The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2013

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SEPT 2013 Issue
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What is Art?

Art is what you do not know—and if you can define art, then perhaps it isn’t?
It is the thing that shows you the other side of the question, and through its perspective answers what had been before unanswerable.

It is what changes how you see.

It is what defines the obvious in unobvious ways.

It can be what you at first hate—the impossibly different that jars until it reveals something worth holding that had never before been a part of one’s thinking.

Art is what has no other function. And yet it often does have the very active function of laying a real bridge between unbridgeable positions.

But there are false bridges: when life imitates art, it is kitsch (the “postcard” sunset); when art imitates life it is redundant.

In a romantic’s view, art is what is beautiful, is what reveals the sublime. In a modern and practical view, art is anything you say it is. The first equates art as a sort of modern God—the Enlightenment’s surrogate replacement to answer how we can understand ancient mysteries; the second allows a liberating free-for-all of ideas and claims—but perhaps being only inclusive does not always lead where we want, or to what we can use.

The impulse then is to bring some definition back into the mix, “all-inclusive” recast and limited through theory, choice, definition, aesthetics, accepted histories: all an impulse to make art useful, in fact. But then there is the problem that the recognition of art can only be subjective—more arguments.

At its core, perhaps the real joy of art is that it can never, alone, be useful – and yet for how it reveals, teaches even, it is always essential.

Art is what one cannot live without.

None of this makes a definition; perhaps a definition is unnecessary anyway. But still art is a language one can teach, a language in which anyone can invent a new idiom to pass on, and so, ever-evolving.


Peter Freeman

Peter Freeman has galleries in Paris and New York.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2013

All Issues