Not Everything is Art: Why Labeling Abstract Pieces as Art is a Mistake

Anything can be art. For the past century, that is the lesson many artists have been trying to teach the public. That lesson is the reason many famous artists have managed to thrive in the modern era of art. It’s why people like Robert Delaunay, Kazimir Malevich, Jackson Pollock, and Marcel Duchamp are so well known to us today.

That “lesson” can be considered an insult to the history and true meaning of art. To say that anything can be art means allowing even the most soulless, meaningless, nonsensical pieces that any person pulls from the trash to be called art. And that’s what has been happening with modern art. That mentality has been applied so loosely that those four men have become famous for some of the most ridiculous of pieces. Malevich’s most famous painting, one that many critics call the “zero point of painting” is a black square. The piece is quite literally called Black Square, and as the name implies, it is just that. A black square. But modern artists would have you believe that is art.

Arthur Danto, an art critic from Art Nation, said “You can’t say that something’s art or not art anymore.” He says that art is no longer about visual appeal, but more about an intellectual and emotional response. He says for something to be art, you have to consider certain questions. What does it mean? What is it about? Why was it made? He says, “If you get good answers to those questions, it’s art.” If that’s the case, what would be the intellectual response to Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948, a painting many critics during his time described as “a dense bird’s nest.”

Modern artists would say that the point is to challenge your perception of what art is. To make you question and wonder what the true meaning of art is. But if the sole purpose of an art piece is to question art, then it’s no longer an intellectual response. It becomes a melodramatic, self-important tribute to the artist’s arrogance, a way for the artist to make people applaud their “genius.” The only “intellectual response” they could elicit is one that every single modern artist of the past century has tried to draw out. The same exact question asked over and over again, until the question becomes meaningless.

In a 1917 review of Duchamp’s piece, Fountain, Beatrice Wood of the magazine, The Blind Man, said “He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its usual significance disappeared under a new title and point of view, [and] created a new thought for the object.” Wood claims that it challenged your perspectives, which would be a phenomenal accomplishment, until you realize that she’s reviewing a urinal. That’s what Fountain was. Duchamp took a urinal, wrote a pseudonym on it, sent it to an art gallery, and passed it off as art.

There is no intellectual response to that. In fact, by Duchamp’s own admission, there was no deeper meaning behind his “readymade” sculptures as they were called. “My idea was to choose an object that wouldn’t attract me,” he said. “To find a point of indifference in my looking at it.” His entire thought process behind his sculptures was indifference, because that’s what modern art is. That’s what abstract and expressionism is. Abstract “art” is simply indifference to what art is meant to be.

The idea behind “anything can be art” is worthwhile, because the purpose is to teach would-be artists that they need only try to put their emotions on paper to make art. But the actual application of that lesson has led to modern art becoming a joke. Anybody can be an artist, but as Duchamp and Pollock demonstrated, not just anything should be called art.

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