What is Art?

“What is art?” is one of those queer collections of words that manage to seem heavy, soggy and smeared with coagulating oils of faux-intellectual import, but is ultimately, forever and only phatic. One might as well ask “So, hot enough for you?” or “Do you like music?” for all the edifying information you get. That’s why when the cover of this week’s Stylist asked us “What happened when The Stylist became art?” we rolled our eyes a bit and asked the bloke next to us on the train what the weather was going to be like.


We’ll park the implicit assumption in their question for now. Inside the magazine we found, I’m afraid to say, the usual bumf – brisk hotel reviews, fashion shoots and cosmetics corners, all of which were as inspired by ‘art’ as that polka-dot skin for your iPhone. The central question the magazine’s editors wanted to answer was could they, the magazine staff, become art, and while the week long collaboration between the London women’s weekly and the Saatchi Gallery seems more cross-pollinating PR stunt than genuine investigation, their conclusions give us some food for thought. Gallery goers were able to sit in on brainstorming sessions, read live emails, ask questions and pitch ideas as the actual staff, 23 persons, carried out their regular, albeit transplanted, work day.

We’ve seen interesting takes on the blurring between workplace and art-space before. Take this lovely example from Sarah Greenwood and the University of the Arts London, which created an exact replica of the art department from the Sherlock Holmes films in their High Holborn gallery space, which sparks some interesting questions around artist-ship, object and process. And the deluge of ‘craft-as-art’ aesthetics is rising so high that we’ll soon need someone to craft us an ark (Aronofsky to the rescue)… of locally sourced elm, cured in a repurposed East London warehouse, of course.


To address that central question, the magazine turned to Paul Hobson at the Contemporary Art Society who’s view on “What is art?” struck us as one with some teeth. “You can become art,” he’s quoted as saying, “just by being in a gallery because you’re making a proposal to the visitors of that gallery.” Pardon the terrible pun (we just can’t resist), but it’s all a matter of framing. In the conceptual frame of the gallery, the Stylist office and what happens there and how the public interacts with it does indeed become an object of art, in that the viewer is forced to re-approach what is presented in a new light or from a shifted perspective. This is just the type of structuralist crooning that underwrites a good deal of what we do as cultural analysts. And we’re intrigued by the idea that ‘art’ is a receptive and interpretive process and not (just) a creative one.

‘Reframing’ is a thought paradigm with considerable currency at the moment, and we couldn’t be more excited. For just one further example, take this offbeat, but inspired project from the US called New Public Sites, which by giving names to oft overlooked bits of the decrepit urban landscape of Baltimore is envisioning a new era of democratic engagement. Seeing things in a new light, seeing differently, allows us to think differently. Hot enough for you?

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s