Oh what a lovely question to ask to which there is no truly definitive answer since art is sometimes described as being ‘art.’ Unlike science, which hoists itself upon a carefully measured petard before someone disproves a known ‘fact’ that science has declared correct.
At the same time the phrase art is art is such a trite comment that you find it has no meaning when you peek around the curtain. For in the lexicon of art being art, then the scribble your 7 year old does on the baseboards in red marker is just as much art as Salvador Dali’s Madonna of Point Ligat.
So where does that leave us then when discussing art? There is art of the classical style like Titian’s Rape of Europa or Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Annunciation. Lets reflect on Impressionism’s founder Monet and his Japanese Footbridge or Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon at la Grande Jatte. Or talk about the pre-Raphaelites like Monna Vanna by Dante Gabriel Rosetti or William Holman Hunt’s The Shadow of Death. Of course there is Modern Art, which leaves many who walk through the galleries scratching their heads; I have even heard a story of one piece of modern art being hung for twenty years upside down before the error was noticed.
There is also commercial art of the 20th Century. The pin-ups of Varga will draw a smile still from World War II vets because he knew how to present the female figure most alluringly. Michael Whelan has gained a very deserved reputation as a fine artist who sells commercially and does book cover art like the haunting depiction of an alternate Paris gripped in yet another Revolution in Illusion. For disturbing in its blending of machine and man, there is H.R. Geiger and his long-lived Alien spawn. From Japan we see the god of the air-brushed pin-up named Sorayama Hajime. There is also satire and its sub-set the political cartoonist like Nast.
So what is left to discuss when it comes to art? All that is left dear Horatio is protest art. Protest art can only survive in areas willing to subsidize such excursions into the upsetting, which means countries where European post-Renaissance ideals have bloomed, overgrown its beautiful pots, and then perhaps rotted because it has been protected for too long in its walled garden. Some protest art does change the world; Picasso’s Guernica is one such piece; it foretold the horrors in store for the world just a few years later. Other pieces of protest art just endeavor to shock the audience. When an artist decides to create such shocking art that it mocks or inverts the meaning of a more famous piece of art, then that artist better be ready for a backlash. To fall back on the defense of art is art shows that someone never thought of consequences and all they thought of was being edgy as if edgy is cool. Ah yes, edgy; swords have edges so the artist should really be prepared to be cut for art’s sake. Isn’t that another truism of art; that one has to suffer for one’s art? If you are not willing to suffer the consequences of producing protest art, then you should find another line of work.
This just proves such protest artists are not modern day Goyas. That role fell to Theo van Gogh.