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‘Everything is art’

Today’s title is a controversial statement and not without ambiguity. It has come up in conversations with my family and I began to understand something: not everything is art. But it also is. Here is why:

A little history:

I want to delve a little into the history of this phrase first. It has a beginning with Marcel Duchamp who claimed that “anything is art, if an artist says that it is”. This in itself is also controversial because it requires us to define both what art is and artists are. Robert Rauschenberg later used the phrase “everything is art”. These were both ground-breaking in their time. But they have since grown arms and legs…

Marcel Duchamp was one of the fathers of the Dada movement, a movement against the view of a cold logical engagement with the world and rising consumerism during the First World War. In Dada, artists flourished on the nonsensical and they radically criticised the hypocrisy of traditional institutions. The artists called for radical change and they changed the art world radically.

tropicana japanOn the other hand, Robert Rauschenberg became an artist after the Second World War, when consumerism had become the focus of art. It was his intention to open people’s eyes and to instil curiosity by using the so-called mundane as the focus of his art. To Rauschenberg, a bottle of Coke was a piece of art. The item was beautiful in its own right. “Everything is art” was supposed to shift the dismissive connotation of everyday items to a more positive one. This would make it easier for people to enjoy themselves and their surroundings, no matter the time or place.

What that means today:

Today this phrase has been used as an excuse to do whatever one wants by calling it art. That includes brain-farts and pieces that violate the integrity of the audience for the sake of sensationalism. It was never meant to be used as an excuse at all. I believe the phrase still holds up in its original context. If we view our surroundings with respect, and as beautiful in their own right, we can gain more quality of life.

Hence, maintaining the belief that “everything is art” without explaining the historical context and intention of these words, can cause harm. As the audience we don’t need to swallow art at a given value, but we should engage with it. This also means questioning it. It also means being open to potential explanations.

Still, for a piece of art to be art it doesn’t need my approval. It can still present a poignant and important message without my liking it. But hopefully I have the personal integrity to call out sensationalist, violent, and unlovingly made objects as what they are, rather than what someone wants me to see.

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