Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is your work art?

This sounds like a loaded question but I am prompted to because of a line in the movie I watched last night on the life of Georgia O'Keefe. In a discussion with her husband she was angry with him for exploiting her art. His comment was something along the lines of " your WORK is just WORK, it is only ART after someone buys it."

I thought that was a powerful statement. I know many people who are artists but don't sell their work, musicians who are artists but don't play for money and a great example for me are sidewalk artists who's work is fleeting. On the other hand, I also know people who call themselves artists and, for me, they are only crafters who follow other people's patterns and instructions.

So my question to you to start the week out is: " Is your work art even if nobody ever buys it?"


  1. I watched the movie also, and very strongly heard the comment about "it isn't art until someone buys it". Part of me agrees. In American society, nothing is valued until there is a price set on it. However, my heart tells me that it IS art, even if it never sells. After all, when Georgia died, she still owned many of her own paintings. Eventually they went to her museum, but have they technically "sold"? Would we separate her work into "art" the ones that did sell, and "not art" the ones that did not sell? I think not, she produced art. Now if you really want to open a can of worms........what is "good art"

  2. I also noticed this line from the movie which somehow really disturbed me. In response to your post, I went looking for a definition of 'art'. There were excerpts from Tolstoy's 'What is Art?' and others which focused on the expression of emotion and communicating that emotion to the viewer. Personally, I find that definition rather confining, outdated, and boring. If you think of it in terms of Steiglitz' statement he would extend it to say 'if they accurately perceive the emotion and someone is willing to buy it, only then is it art.'

    On there was a definition I like better, 'art is form and content' with form being 1)the elements of art, 2) the principles of art, and 3) physical materials used. They went on to say that 'Content' is 'idea based' and includes 1)what the artist meant to portray, 2)what the artist actually did portray, and 3) how we react as individuals to the intended and actual messages.

    So... I think his words that it is not art until someone buys it were the words of someone trying to maintain a Svengali like control of the potential source of his income and power.

    I like best the simple idea that 'art is the product of creativity'. What is good art or fine art will vary over time. What is enjoyed by the public that would purchase it will vary over time. Whether the creator of an item considers him/herself an artist, craftsman, or something else will vary over time.

    Just the ramblings of a curious and reflective quilter or quilt artist or artist depending on the day and the mood.

  3. Definitely nothing to do with money. The definition varies according to who you read/talk to. If you want some mild entertainment on this topic, I did cover it on my blog some time ago: go to
    scroll down to "labels" in the right margin and click on "a brief history of western art"

  4. I strongly disagree...I get that arguement from my DS as if it doesn't have worth because I am not making money from it - generally the true interpretation of his statements/objections would probably be more along the lines of "Why are you taking so much time for something that is not me?" LOL I haven't seen the film, but figure this probably was the case in the instance quoted

    but apart from that, here is another more objective response. What if you never sell anything, but you have exhibited widely? This would, to my mind, mean someone besides you was thinking the Work was Art.
    Any thoughts?
    Sandy in the UK

  5. I'm intriqued by some of the responses so far. I like Sandy's comments that people, in this case her son, think it doesn't have 'worth' if we aren't making money from it. I think that is the crux of the statement in a nutshell.

    We are a global society that values all kinds of commerce and sometimes the cheesier the item, the higher it's values.

    From my own experiences, I will say that this can be a trap we let ourselves be lured into. Supplies are expensive, therefore shouldn't we sell something to justify our continueing to feed our passion? Or is the passion enough to feed us?

    I also think there is another part to this statement and that is the definition of work. If it is work, I should be compensated monetarily for it, but if it is art for art's sake, it isn't work at all.

    just more of my musings...what say you all?

  6. Isn't ART something like BEAUTY.... it is all in the eye of the beholder?
    I know this discussion has gone on round and round, and for someone to say 'it is not art unless you are selling'... I see that as a put-down.. someone who needs to be one up.

    I don't give those comments a second thought... it is only a matter of opinion.... and it is not mine.

    Hey... remember David Brinkley? He had a TV program and if I remember correctly it was called 'It is my Opinion and you are entitled to it'... loved it.

    Emily Carr was dirt poor... didn't sell until years after she was dead.

  7. Love your comments Betty!!! I think you have nailed it and then some!!!

  8. I have always thought that art feeds the soul. Both the soul of the artist and the soul of the viewer. Good or bad is irrelevant. The artist will never be fully satisfied with their product and the viewer always wants more.

    When some piece of work "speaks" to you and you feel the "need" to have it, that is art for you. When you release a part of yourself into a work that you create, that is art for the artist.

    Hoping that art comes through me more often!

  9. I believe Art is defined by the intention of the maker. If the maker intends to make Art, then it's Art. Whether it's good Art is another question!

  10. Art; such a difficult thing to define. I've just spent about an hour reading various definitions on "What is Art?". There is a multitude of conflicting definitions and opinions; all of which frustrated me by the scope of meanings for a simple 3 letter word.
    Is my work Art? Applying that 3 letter word to my work makes me feel unworthy, so no I do not feel my work is Art.
    My "work" is an expression of the creative side of my soul; there is that other practical logical side of my soul which is necessary in my role as a physician.
    My "work' provides a soothing balance to my life. I would be a lesser person without it.

  11. This attitude that attaches worth to something only if it has commercial value is commonplace and a very easy trap to fall into. This morning I was reading a review of Alyson B. Stanfield's book, I'd Rather Be in the Studio. The last line of the review stated that this book was a must have for every serious quilter. Excuse me? I have no interest or need to sell my work. Does than mean I'm not serious about it? If you look up dilettante in the dictionary, the meaning is "amateur." The antonym is "professional." Ergo, if you don't sell, you are merely dabbling. To be honest, if I were thirty (give or take a couple of decades), and if I wanted to be accepted out in the big wide world as an artist, I think I, too, would buy into that distinction. As it is, I'm retired and enjoying myself doing what I love to do. I'm gonna call my work 'art' if I want to--whether it is good or bad, and I'll call yours 'art' as well. That's MY story, and I'm sticking to it!

  12. The original question wasn't about defining art but about commercialization of our artisitic endeavors in order for them to be respected as art. Sometimes the meaning to my writing isn't very clear. I appreciate all the comments and I think Suzanne and a couple of others addressed the question very well. .

    It's unfortunate that we have to be commercial to be respected, sometimes even by friends and family who think we piddle along and we should jump at the chance to "make" something for them. I recently was asked to sell a piece to a good friend. When I came up with a price there was a shocked look and an "I'll have to think about it".

    I have sold many pieces in the past for large sums but I don't sell things now. I don't think I'm any less of an artist because I don't.

  13. now you sound like my husband, father.... Art that sells is fine. I think if you have support yourself making art, one tends toward production or trys to figure out what the BUYERS want.
    In my opinion, a true artist is one who NEEDS to create, to give expression to their inner visions.
    If it sells, that is an awesome validation.
    Who defines what is art. That is a mystery. Some folks seem to have good representation- like Alfred, in the case of Georgia.

  14. LOL Wen, I didn't say this! The person in the movie did.

  15. If it comes from my heart , then yes it is Art. If I sell a piece, than that's wonderful. I don't do my art to sell, I do it for me. I f I get to share it, that is icing on the cake.

  16. In his book, What is Art, Tolstoy said art must create a specific emotional link between artist and audience, one that "infects" the viewer. Thus, real art requires the capacity to unite people via communication.

    So, I guess that when someone connects with your work and buys it, the work is validated as art. However, I am not sure the purchase of a piece is what makes it art. It is the artist's connection with that work and it's creation that made it art in the first place.

  17. OK if you need a definition then Tolstoy's is the best one I have come across. Being serious about it I see art as a process: the experience, whatever it is, is transformed by you, the artist, then presented to the world in a form that communicates. It is good art when this process is both worthwhile and effective.

  18. Sandra I think this is a wonderful addition to this conversation. I think I agree with all that you wrote.

  19. A person, who I respect, once told me that art is any creation that evokes an emotional respose in the viewer. I've adopted that definition. BUT-the rush when someone buys my work is irreplaceable--becasue it is a validation of the emotional energy I've put into the piece during its creation.
    Pat F in Winnipeg