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  • Simone Jacob


What is art and who determines it?

A question that I have often puzzled over.

When does a work become art? Is it skill or is a new idea enough?

The American painter Jackson Pollock only had his artistic breakthrough when he accidentally came up with the idea of dripping his brush onto the canvas instead of painting. Pollock initiated something new. But does that make the work art?

Andy Warhol was already famous when he instructed his students to come to the studio in the morning with a full bladder and pee on the canvas lying on the floor. Warhol's Pipi work now hangs in the Brandhorst Museum in Munich.

When I pee or drip paint on a canvas, nobody thinks it's art. So it's probably not just the idea, but also the person, the artist, that turns a work into art.

Once the artist has achieved a certain level of fame, it seems as if almost every further work is automatically waved through as art. The more unusual, bizarre, dramatic, mysterious the artist, the better. Artists often fall out of the ordinary and show the viewer a closed, strange world with their story. This is what the audience craves and art needs an audience and the good fortune of being discovered by the art scene.

Because art is nothing if nobody knows it.

And sometimes the art scene slides into absurdities that I can no longer follow, even with the greatest effort.

An example is the Italian conceptual artist Piero Manzoni. In 1961, Manzoni put 30 grams of his own shit in 90 cans. He sold all the cans for $37 each. Today they are in various collections. Their value has increased many times over. In 2008, a can sold for 132,000 euros at Sotheby's.

Manzoni got the idea for the can campaign from his father, a can manufacturer, who said to him “Your art is shit”. Not only that this saying was about the disturbed relationship between father and son, it also shows how banal the idea of canned shit was. do we really need this? is this art Does Manzoni's shit belong in a museum? Certainly there are so-called art connoisseurs here too who argue that Manzoni's idea was great and that he revolutionized the art world with this action.

The story of Hans-Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" comes to mind when I think of "shit in cans".

The fairy tale is about an emperor who has two swindlers weave new robes for a lot of money. They tell him that the clothes are so fine and noble that only a true connoisseur could see them. In fact, however, the emperor is completely naked. But since he's unsure and doesn't want to appear stupid, he doesn't say he can't see the supposed new clothes. And so it is that he appears completely naked before his people. Even his people don't dare to tell the truth and praise the emperor's beautiful new clothes. Only a little boy, who doesn't care what others think of him, speaks the truth and says that the emperor has no clothes at all, but is naked.

In dieser Geschichte geht es um die unkritische Akzeptanz gegenüber Autoritäten, die so weit geht, dass selbst die offensichtliche Wahrheit nicht ausgesprochen wird. Nämlich, zum Beispiel, dass Scheisse in Dosen keine Kunst ist, sondern einfach nur Scheisse.

A famous New York gallery owner said in an interview with the BBC on the topic "What is art?" that there is no such thing as art. An object only becomes art when someone is willing to pay a large sum of money for it. It is concluded that if someone spends so much money on a work, it must also be art.

This thought is magnified even more when the work hangs in a museum. People have been taught that art is art in museums. It's approved and practically unchallenged. For many it is probably similar to the fairy tale “The Emperor's New Clothes”. They don't dare to speak their honest opinion.

But who decides which work is allowed in the museum? The decision-makers are a small, elite circle who call themselves experts and can apparently distinguish art from non-art. They have the true power to create artists and works of art.

In addition to specialist knowledge, your decision-making criteria also have a lot to do with fashion, zeitgeist, taste, coincidence, politics, vanity, power and influence, e.g. through money. Otherwise, how could it be that countless artists, unsuccessful in their time and their works were worth nothing, but years later, often only after their death, were elevated to art. First no art, then art?! How does it work? Isn't art always art? Even if it is unsuccessful or, as the gallery owner says in the BBC documentary, does it only become art through the evaluation of others?

Art can therefore never become art without a viewer without feedback.

Examples of artists whose works were not particularly appreciated during their lifetime are Henri Rousseau and Vincent Van Gogh.

Even today, many artists live in poverty and only survive with part-time jobs. It's not for nothing that the first question an artist is often asked is, "And can you make a living from it?" No, most of the time they can't.

If an artist wants to be successful today, he has to make a “brand” with a high recognition value out of himself and/or his works. Artists are treated like pop stars today.

The more scandals and myths surround them, the more expensive their works sell. Talent often takes a back seat. The viewer wants to be entertained first and that includes the deification of the artist.

The audience and its view of the artist's work can be influenced by his person. Siri Hustvedt's excellent book, The Gleaming World, is about this very subject.

Artists such as Jeff Koons, Salome, Rainer Fetting, Werner Büttner, Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen and Richard Prince knew how to use the psychology of the art market for their economic success. You knew that without proper marketing, great success as an artist would probably not happen.

Because without an audience, even the most wonderful picture will not gain fame and a good price.

What I write here may seem cynical to some. That may well be the case, but it just had to come out.

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