The topic of discussion was whether or not video games can be considered art. This then lead into trying to pin down what exactly art is. Given the subjective nature of art it’s difficult enough to get two people to agree on a definition of art, let alone one that could be used to judge video games. Several artists and philosophers, such as E. J. Bond (1975), Berys Gaut (2000), and Julius Moravcsik (1993), have advocated Cluster Theory as a way of defining what art is.
Cluster theories of art claim that many concepts function by specifying a potentially fuzzy set of criteria or “family resemblances” that an object might meet in any number of ways (Wittgenstein, 1968).
Berys Gaut, a Professor of Philosophy, put forward a list of conditions that he believes can help define art.
(1) possessing positive aesthetic properties, such as being beautiful, graceful, or elegant (properties which ground a capacity to give sensuous pleasure);
(2) being expressive of emotion;
(3) being intellectually challenging (i.e., questioning received views and modes of thought);
(4) being formally complex and coherent;
(5) having a capacity to convey complex meanings;
(6) exhibiting an individual point of view;
(7) being an exercise of creative imagination (being original);
(8) being an artifact or performance which is the product of a high degree of skill;
(9) belonging to an established artistic form (music, painting, film, etc.);
(10) being the product of an intention to make a work of art. (Gaut, 2000: 28)
I find this definition rather lacking. There are many works that are socially accepted as art to which one or more of these points would not apply. If something has been universally accepted as art and you create a definition for art that excludes said works, then said definition is flawed. I disagree quite strongly with his first point, that art should be beautiful. Many works of art, such a My Bed by Tracey Emin, rely on a works shock value or ugliness to convey the meaning of the artist. Other works of art are too abstract to be considered elegant or graceful yet no one would say that the works of Pablo Picasso aren’t art.
So flawed is this definition, even when I agree with it I have to add in stipulations. I wholeheartedly agree that for something to be considered art it must be expressive of an emotion. However I do not believe everything that is expressive of emotion is art. There is obvious sadness in any picture of a child crying yet not every picture of a child crying is thought of as art. Yet I would consider the picture taken by Kevin Carter a work of art due to the cultural and historical lessons behind it.
Many works of art are based around trying to visually represent a human emotion so may be quite simple in design and the obviousness of their meaning preventing it from being intellectually challenging. If a child is able to understand a work of art, does this mean it is no longer art. If it is so simple as to be understood by a child, then surely it is not intellectually challenging and cannot be considered art. This is of course ludicrous, as there is no age requirement to appreciate art.
I disagree with the following two criteria for similar reasons, in that they contain expressions that are not well defined. There are many pieces of modern art that are not very complex in appearance, such as pieces done by Erin Bauer for Vienna’s Mumok Museum of Modern Art. Other pieces of art may deliberately break up cohesion in order to convey confusion. His following point also dictates art should convey complex meanings. Art often tries to evoke certain emotions in it’s viewer, emotions are really quite basic meanings. The are abstract and hard to define but not inherently complex. Given the wide scope of the already established art world, I cannot agree with any definition that tries to put restrictions on it’s form.
A large part of the attraction of art is how it can be interpreted in so many different ways. If art was only capable of exhibiting one fixed point of view and could not be misinterpreted then there would be no point in viewing it as you could learn all you need to know about it from a book. This point even conflicts with the next criterion that it should be an exercise of a creative mind. One fixed point of view would not facilitate creative works of art. Gaut also stipulates that art should be original which is ridiculous, many artists have carved Statues of David so does that mean only the first one carved is art?
For the most part I would agree that art should be the product of a high degree of skill but once again disagree with placing restrictions on what can be art. Who gets to judge what is a suitable level of skill. How long did Leonardo da Vinci have to paint before he reached the requisite skill level to create art. It is for similar reasons that I disagree with Gaut’s last two criteria as well. If art had to belong to an established art form then the Lourve would be a giant cave with charcoal drawings on the wall. It would be nearly impossible to use the intent of the creator as a judge for whether or not something can be judged as art. I would think most painters would set out to create magnificent paintings, it is only other people that then judge it as art. People might view it as art but the painters intention was to create a painting, not art.
I do not believe there is any suitable definition for what art is. The criteria of Gaut’s cluster theory are at times too broad and at others too narrow. When it comes to art I have to agree with Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like”.