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WHAT IS NOT ART? An article that isn’t art by JJ Brine

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN ANYTHING THAT WASN’T ART?

IF my opinion mattered enough to declare it forthright, Eye would inform the reader that the entirety of the universe is “just an art project.”

One might argue that any NON-ART object or thought—or even absence thereof—would be wholly separate from the fabric of the universe, and thus deserving of immediate deification. GOD IS NOT ART.

In a world where everything and anything can be art, the elusive prospect of encountering some inherently non-art artifact is enough to give me a debilitating case of the Stendhal Syndrome. So titillating is the thought of irrefutable non-art that I irrelevantly declare it the pinnacle of all artistic endeavors.

But forget my thought process: I’m a conceptual shark attacking my own humanity from all sides in hopes of revealing the machinery of my higher self, which has no intentions.

Let’s take a look at some people—artists—who have bowed to the necessity of conceptually dissolving the very thing that animates their livelihood. And if the deconstruction of art by artists is not art for its own sake, I just don’t know what is.

“ART IS NOT A WALK IN THE PARK. ART IS NOT WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE TO DO. ART IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS. ART IS NOT LIFE. ART IS NOT.”

L.A.-based art dealer and art consultant ANNIE WHARTON is a bit more forthcoming:

“I know you’re asking me what isn’t art, but if the artist calls it art, it’s art. In 1917, when Marcel Duchamp put a porcelain urinal with the signature “R. Mutt” in a gallery and called it “Fountain,” the term “art” was forever redefined. And just because someone doesn’t like it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t art. Especially if you consider historically important artworks that got a lot of public backlashes, like Warhol’s “Piss Paintings” from the 70s or Karen Finley’s 80s shit performances. As a curator, I’m personally interested in the confluence of popular culture and high art, and how they inform and activate one another. The planet and era we inhabit right now make it difficult to find anything that isn’t art. Except certain politicians, who are definitely not art.”

Performance artist SIGNE PIERCE initially agreed to answer this interview question but later decided that it might not be art to engage, stating that what’s really the highest art is declining to participate entirely. I can’t help but agree with her.

Poet, model, and actress ELYSE CIZEK has a list of what is not art, “Clear plastic wrapping on tampons and tiny single-use soaps. Expiration dates. Safety measures. Pressed accessible umbrellas. Pre-designed condo buildings in custom colors with balconies overlooking abandoned construction sites where the next one was supposed to be. Upheld plans to go over your taxes.”

I’M AWE-STRUCK AT THE THOUGHT OF TINY SINGLE-USE SOAPS NOT BEING ART. SURELY TO HAVE SAID SO IS ITSELF A PINNACLE OF ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT.

Performance artist LENA MARQUISE, the only artist I know who has received the high honor of having one of her works called “not art” by The Huffington Post, stated “It is and it isn’t” attesting to the perceptual quality of the subject matter.

This is conceptually reinforced in the reply proffered by actor (and whistler) BASHIR DAVIID NAIM, who plays a recurring character on the show Transparent:

“ART IS NOT SELF-CONSCIOUS. ART DOES NOT EXIST.”

I AM GIVEN TO ABSOLUTES. EITHER EVERYTHING IS ART, GIVEN AN ART CONTEXT, OR NOTHING IS.

Bashir seems to favor the latter interpretation. Although maybe Bashir is speaking in the abstract—a contextual vacuum in which art is being considered apart from all considerations of what it is or isn’t. Art, like life, is what we make of it, and is only as valuable or as relevant as we say it is.

Amongst all professions and trades, there is no other quite like the art world wherein practitioners and voyeurs alike can confer or deprive constitutive belonging status at their whims. A chronically underperforming dentist would not be accused of not being a dentist, rather, they would be called “a bad dentist.”