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Apr 12, 2012

Is It ART?... Yes, one of 3 different kinds.

A clever artist recently put a packet of $20,000 in new bank notes up for auction as art. Then he estimated the value between $15,000 and $25,000, giving collectors a chance to determine whether the cash is more or less valuable as art. (It sold for $21,350) Artists love to pull this sort of prank because it's always fun to confuse the capitalists (who are equally curious if they can resell the silliness at a profit!) and because it fans the flames of one omnipresent question: what is art?
One answer is very clearly stated in a maddening and informative investigative 60 Minutes story on the high-flying art market. One famous dealer says openly: it is theater, pure and simple! Like a house of mirrors, here no one knows what is real but everyone is willing to play the game because there is a great deal of money involved! Art-as-theater is an enormous business among the billionaires, who are so insulated from the real problems of life that it serves as entertainment for them. Like professional wrestling nobody thinks it's real but people still pay to watch the spectacle.
There is no harm in this by itself, but it does cause real harm as it sends a terrible stench downstream to us ordinary passersby who are already pretty suspicious of contemporary art, where we're likely to just get more huffy about the demise of art in our times. This is not rotten so much as it is just disrespectful of community. If we can see these money games for what they are we will more easily be able to open up to art and better distinguish good art from mere entertainment.
Which brings us round to the second type of art: Decor or Entertainment. This is what we find most often in commercial galleries or in the movie theaters. It's intended to sell and therefor can't raise too many uncomfortable questions. It won't kill you but it's not all that nourishing either. It is perfectly valid for its purpose, which is to comfort and relax.
The third and most important kind is what we might call Meaningful art. This is most readily found in books on art history, art museums and in often in the "classiest" cultural institutions. The older stuff is almost always great art because it has been filtered through the sensibilities of all the succeeding generations. This is a very helpful process since the silliness and shallow sentimentality that might look "great" to one era is usually seen for what it is by the ones that follow and filtered out.
The three types are all equally valid though they differ in value. Theater art is the most expensive, Decor the most popular and Meaningful art the most powerful, a smorgasbord of delights! (Of course much of art is a combination),
Having said all this I must insist that I am no more of an art expert that you are. (Though I have made a serious lifelong attempt to define art in this Wiki.) Art, like sex, is totally personal. If it works for you no one can refute that and if it doesn't it is as good as garbage. This is all there is to it. So my advice is don't be fooled by anyone. Find the art that moves you and indulge yourself!
Meanwhile it will be interesting to see what the collector of the $20,000 "artwork" does next. My bet is he'll sell it to someone else for an enormous profit. I hope they serve popcorn with that!
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Tim Holmes Studio

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.