David Lister: Craft does not make art – it takes originality

Share
Related Topics

As a debate, "what is art" prefigures most art. France's celebrated prehistoric cave paintings probably had assorted cavemen raising their clubs as they declared: "I may not know much about art but I know what I like." And within the last couple of weeks, there has been an earnest debate in the pages of The Independent on the nature of art. This was sparked by Sir Richard Eyre's polemic on the subject, in which he said, among many other things, that art "makes us look at the world differently".

But while such debates address plays, music and dance, never are they so fierce than with the visual arts and modern art in particular. It started arguably in 1917 with Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain", in reality a urinal. Duchamp said his intent with the piece was to shift the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation. It continued through the cubism of Picasso to Damien Hirst's shark, Martin Creed's flickering light bulb and Tracey Emin's bed.

The conceptualism of the last 20 years, venerated in successive Turner Prize exhibitions, has ensured the debate Duchamp started never really ended. Duchamp's argument was that it is no longer just the craftsmanship but how we interpret a work and how we are inspired by it, whether it uplifts the soul or gives us insights into ourselves and the world. Fellow Dadaists stressed that it was irrelevant whether or not Duchamp made his "fountain". He "chose" it and under a new title and point of view created "a new thought" for that object.

The court case in France gives reason to pause for even the most liberal of art lovers. They turn the Dadaist definition of art on its head. They shift the focus back, as all copyists do, from intellectual interpretation to physical craft.

The skill of copying a work is certainly a craft. But it does not help us to see the word differently, it does not affect the soul, it does not help us to know ourselves better. We can admire its proficiency but it is not art, because it lacks the two essential ingredients: originality and imagination.

And yet, some might argue, what can be more original than creating a new school of sculpture by mischief; what can be more imaginative than devising a way to fool art dealers, critics and the public.

So let's add to the many definitions of art the essential caveat that while springing from the imagination, true art must spring from the artist's own imagination, not someone else's.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'