Tell me – is that art?

May 10, 2005

Hi, I thought of you today when I was talking with a friend about art. We were trying to decide about what art is…. loaded question, you think? Yes, indeed it was. How many arguments have occurred in our lifetime that started with the statement, “Now THAT’s art.”

Luckily, we were never embroiled about a particular piece of work, but rather just talking about art in general. We came to see that we were talking about two different things. One was that a piece of work is art for the simple fact that the artisan expresses it is so. If someone called their expression of work “art”, then it is so. How it is perceived is open to interpretation, to be sure, but the definition in this case sufficed, because as long as the people doing the work considered their craft art, then it was art.

The other definition we were talking about, without knowing it, was that we call something art as long as the person perceiving the work believes it is art. That is a common belief, that once enough people believe something is art, then it becomes so, etc etc… Then there is all the people in between – some believe it is and some don’t, but the definition remains the same. As long as someone in the perceiving role believes it is art, then it is so.

Of course, there are lots of arguments we can avoid right now by my telling you that defining what is and is not art does not interest me. What interests me is that moment in time when we are compelled to call something art; or that moment when a person, working on something intently, looks at their work and they feel it is their art; or that moment when a person walking by the crafter says, “Wow, that’s art.” Is she looking at the work, or at the working, or at the craftsman’s perception of his own work?


If we stretch out the timeline….we are walking through a museum, and let’ suppose we don’t know what the original intention of the craftspeople were, but we walk by and we perceive some objects therein as art. What are we participating in when we do this? For whatever the reason is that we think something is art, in that moment when we say to ourselves, that is art, we are receiving something. Across the miles and millennia, we have perceived and received the crafter’s handiwork. As we receive works as art, are we not receiving a message of the energy and work that went into it, regardless of the intention of the crafter? Is that not a gift we are able to give to the crafter to have received that locked energy when we recognize their work as art?

My cats – one is black and quite onry, and one is light grey and purrs a lot. She – the black one – sometimes bites , especially when I don’t hold still when she’s chosen it’s time to groom me. Then there is the light grey one… He’s quite affectionate. He never gives licks or grooming, but everyone agrees: he’s the loving one…. he loves being petted. The black cat gives attention in her way and she is loving, but it is the light cat who receives love and who is seen as loving.

If receiving is a universal sign of love, is receiving the work of others also a way to connect to the crafter in a conduit no less powerful than love? The bond that can exist between crafter and those who receive it can occur over decades, creating a connection across the years and generations. This makes sense, because love – true love – knows no space and time as boundaries.


The medium of air and water is very fluid, and signals travel through these media very quickly. The denser the medium, the slower the message. While this may seem far fetched, doesn’t it make sense that there is possibly a tangible element to this perception or reception of which I speak? Is it possible that the crafter, working with their wood or canvas or vegetable twine, can infuse a message of art, of love into their work, that can be received years later in the recipient who perceives it as art once again? The statue in the hall, or the basket in the garden, or the paintings lining the room walls of a student, who so loved his subject he never sold one of them, may all have transmitting through them the signals left in their media by the crafters.

And maybe there are works out there that have that energy, but have not been released yet because the receiving has not yet occurred. There, waiting like jars of ripening jam ready to be received, and when that occurs, the threads of connection are picked up, and the connections of love are complete. There must be millions of potential woven fabrics of this sort of reception and perception right here, right now, if we would just look upon, feel, open to, and appreciate the works of art around us. I’m thinking, hmmm, I wouldn’t mind that sort of blanket surrounding this planet right now.

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