I'll begin with the caveat that this post only aims to unpack a question, the responses to which may be a lifetime in the forming. Lately, I've been thinking about the shift from "What is Art?" to "What Does Art Do?"
The "What is art" question really got explored in the 20th century. We see it through famous pieces like Marcel Duchamp's The Fountain and the subsequent tremendous birth of installation art. I haven't always loved Marcel Duchamp, but I absolutely love the Dada anti-art movement. I think it's really borne from the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement, which I feel almost certain I lived through. I resonate so fully with the ideas of Thomas Carlyle, William Morris...even Karl Marx to some extent. I wrestle with how to live with the integrity of labor in a world that doesn't value labor. It's torture.
This is all to say nothing of the fact that this is a complete post-18th centiury look at what qualifies as art, a modern (and perverse) perception of art. It completely disregards the chore/trade/craft/art continuum of human beahvior (which we will save for another post).
Anyway, "what is art" is kind of tired.
Ellen Dissanayake wrote a book called, "What is art for?" It's a wonderful book and it's a good question. How did art come about? Why is art so prevalent? What were the pre-21st century impacts of art practices?
I want to take that question one step further. What does art do? How does it work in the world we live in? How does it change us or fail to change us? What is the social and psychological experience of a person who exhibits? What happens when we place price tags on this very personal labor? Is it good for us?
I have many thoughts...and hunderd of pages...devoted to this topic. When my colleagues ask about my work, "How's it going, Em?" I find myself, almost without thought, repsonding with, "oh, it's heartbreaking." I need to dig deeper and more fully understand what it is about this question that is so disheartening.