What is this thing we call “Art”?
You could spend a great deal of time investing in an internal categorisation system, making lines and boxes, for fine art, low art, high art, pop art, this movement, this group of painters, that clique of sculptors. While this system of logging and compartmentalisation is useful if you’re working in a library, I think it is very counterproductive when it comes to art appreciation or stimulating your own creativity.
I volunteered for a while within an art gallery. A women came in and told me how glad she was that the Arts Funded Group the gallery I belonged to had decided to do “stuff like this.” It seemed clear she meant visual art, instead of performance based art.
This stark differentiation meade me realise I no longer saw fierce walls between forms of art. I just see how one form bleeds into another. With writing I see how lyrics blur into poetry, poetry blends into spoken word, spoken word bleeds into prose, and how prose is just another way to tell stories.
While it is sometimes useful to be aware what you are aiming for when you create, there are times where the thing you make insists you cross the borders of various forms to reach your destination.
Here is a recording of me reading one of my pieces. It’s loosely a poem, though it utilises elements of narrative, a directness that nods to spoken word, and a raw autobiographical feel, a little confessional that’s perhaps more first person prose. It has no strong rhyming element but when written down it has an alternating stanza length five lines then two lines. Do you feel it could exist solely in one of those categories?
Do we need definitions of art at all? Do they not stifle creativity?
After a particularly heated late night debate with an art teacher, I tried to come up with my own definition of what constitutes “Art”.
“Art is neither exclusively for elite minorities or mass majority, it is simply created and then given to the world in one form or another. It requires no peer validation or popular appeal, criticism or praise just an artist and an audience.”
The debate with the art teacher revolved around whether the Spice Girls could be considered art? If I run the Spice Girls through my definition, they had mass appeal, relatively little peer validation, plenty of criticism, but ultimately they were a collection of artists with plenty of audience. Hence, despite being a manufactured band, they most certainly made “Art”.
In the old categorisation system, you’ll probably define them in more insulting ways. Within the art world there is still this persistent glamour of the impoverished artists: that if you are truly great you will never be appreciated in your lifetime.
What I am trying to say is, it’s better to be doing, creating and letting loose your art than endlessly working out how to categorise your own work. It is inevitable that someone will be kind enough to come along and do this for you at some point. And after you’re dead the art historians will have their fun.
So, I have decided to embrace my own self spun title of “Guerrilla Wordsmith” and start sneaking my work into places it’s not expected. I posted a poetry video on a porn site, and I posted an anti-love poem on a very loved up Facebook group. Next I plan to insert single page poems into the library books at my local library under my poetry pseudonym “Poet of Beard”, which is a small act of rebellion inspired by Joe Orton. Next stop I may do the same at my local WHSmith’s and Waterstones.
And yes, part of this is just because I can, and because it’s publicity. But it is also because there is a great misconception about my current chosen form of art practice, “poetry,” that it is designed for the educated and the elite. I have always made sure I use words I understand 100%, and if a simpler word will suffice I will gladly opt for it. By all means design your art with a highly educated minority in mind, but don’t be then disappointed if your mates down the pub or a working class family don’t get it.
My own aim is to always write something that satisfies a part of me. I can never satisfy myself all of the time, so neither do I expect any one of my poems to speak out to everybody.
Worry less about “Is this art” and concern yourself with “Is this art I can enjoy?”. No matter how much of an outsider we feel, if a work of art speaks to us, there is a chance it reaches out to others too.
Of course you must then be prepared for people who actively dislike or hate your work. As Taylor Swift said “Hater’s gonna hate”, and yes I just quoted one of pop’s marmite figures because I recently made a collage poem from her song lyrics, thinking I’d hate them, and in the end I was left thinking…some of this is pretty good.
So, keep on writing, drawing, singing, dancing and performing. Keep on doing whatever you love doing because you are the only one who can do it for yourself.
I am a London Based Guerrilla Wordsmith, occasional visual artist, and sometime volunteer, Please follow me on twitter @Poetofbeard. My name is Thomas Smith but that’s no longer very important in the grand scheme of things. Viva la revolution!