The limits of expression

By Nathanael Check
Art Column

Inside an art museum in Los Angeles, CA, a massive canvas hangs in a plain white room filled with art enthusiasts, tourists, teachers and their students and museum regulars. On the canvas is an assortment of colors, each of different hues varying in tint and shade.

Not one part of the work is just like another, yet the painting feels familiar from top to bottom. To some, this painting is nothing more than a vast array of scribbles and an arbitrary definition of art.

However, if this is the case, then why do so many people regard Jackson Pollock’s “One: Number 31, 1950” to be such a special and symbolic painting? To get to the bottom of this, one first needs to define what art is.

Art is the expression of ideas, emotions or stories through means of creativity and artistic skill.

Consider this scenario: two friends share music which they enjoy with each other. One friend prefers older music from the ‘70s and ‘80s, while the other cannot get enough of today’s top 40 artists.

Now the first friend despises newer music while the second one cannot bear to listen to more than 10 seconds of old music. To say that one friend’s musical taste is wrong and the other is right would just be silly.

After all, good music is subjective and therefore cannot be perfectly defined. Is such the case for art as well? Perhaps, but that does not mean that art is without rules.

The rules of art differ from person to person, but most artists and art viewers alike can agree that if art is pleasing to the eye, it is good.

An artwork’s beauty can aid us in appreciating it and understanding it, and it can also fill us with awe and make us more imaginative people. Not anyone can make art, however.

If the rules of art are suddenly disregarded, then anyone can become an artist, even those who lack the necessary emotion, skill and imagination. If anyone can be an artist, then why should I be unable to make a top 100 song with random notes played at odd intervals and varying pitches and speeds?

As soon as the standards of art are lost, then art as a whole is lost because art depends on these standards to maintain its integrity and to serve its purpose – our enjoyment and inspiration.

Art cannot be whatever someone wants it to be despite the beauty of art lying in the eye of the beholder.

Art is a discipline, and disciplines have rules that should be followed. The rules are not meant to restrict the artist’s imagination or expression, but rather to provide an environment in which they can flourish.

Without rules, an artist’s ideas are scattered and incoherent. This is why despite there being no clear answer as to what art is, people are still able to create it.