Webster’s dictionary defines art as, “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” According to this definition, it is almost easier to define the action of doing art, rather than what it actually is.
Does art need to have a concept or a story, or could it just simply follow the autonomy of art for art’s sake? If an object is seen as aesthetically pleasing shouldn’t it be considered art? Regardless of an object’s use in daily life, if it is pleasing to look at, should it be displayed?
These are all quesstions that are not covered by Webster’s definion of “art.” The term has not always been used in the context that it is today, and we find that the term changes almost daily to include or exclude everything from paintings, crafts, and even ideas. People in the past did not observe and study art in the same way we do today in chronological periods or different categories. Objects displayed in a museums, such as Greek pottery, medieval illuminated manuscripts and so on, were created during their time to perform a specific use in daily life. While we find these art objects to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, they also provide us with an idea of the life and culture within the time it was created. Therefore, since utensils from hundreds of years ago are displayed in art museums across the globe, why shouldn’t the utensils of today be put on display as well? Can everything around us be considered art or is there a boundary between the two?
The Museum of Modern Art’s recent announcement of their adoption of the @ symbol into their Architecture and Design collection, which contains thousands of objects such as a Tiffany Lamp, a band-aid, etc., has created much debate. However, the Museum did not decide to collect a computer key imprinted with the sign or even any particular version of it, merely just the symbol itself. The New York Time article, “Art That Needs No Hanger”, further addresses the Museum’s unusual acquisition, as it questions if the addition of the “@” symbol to the collection will blow open the door of design collecting as Duchamp’s urinal had. Today there appear to be infinite possibilities when defining something as art.
Art displayed in the context in which it would have been seen allows viewers to have a better understanding of the culture and the time period when the art was created. At the NBMAA our current exhibition, Inspired Innovations: A Celebration of Shaker Ingenuity, consists of twelve zones of innovation that are organized to resemble traditional Shaker quarters. The design affords viewers the ability to see how each piece was originally intended to be used. In addition, the exhibition showcases over 350 objects spanning over 200 years from 1800-2000. The exhibit is a tribute to the durability, practicality, and simplicity of the Shaker style as each piece is created to reflect the ideology of the Shakers themselves. The exhibit provides visitors with the chance to grasp the culture and life style of the Shakers. Furthermore, the display of mainly home good, textiles, and furniture is a departure for the NBMAA. Per our title, we only display “art,” and by hosting this exhibition, we have included Shaker design aesthetic on our own desifition of the elusive term.
What objects do you think should be displayed in a museum? Art there objects that should be displayed over other objects? What make certain objects art and others not? What is more valid? A Tiffany lamp? A Shaker Chair? The @ symbol?