What is Art?

Art is that through which we endlessly recreate ourselves.

What is art? You could be forgiven for believing that art is little more than a commodity. The outrageous prices that these material and conceptual entities sell for indicate an absurdity, not so much of the art market itself, but of human value systems and economic in general. That Jeff Koons is able to manipulate market perceptions into an utterly ridiculous tens-of-millions of dollars price for a diminutive steel copy of an inflatable rabbit illustrates something of a tragic and grotesque fate for art, value and the gullibility of the marketplace; but simultaneously in demonstrating the strangeness of this – the art becomes the absurdity it represents. (Should we posit such conceptual insight to Koons? Is his insight that the art market, like so many others, is entirely self-manipulating – commercial gullibility and investor vulnerability are in this sense a feature, not a bug of the way this system works).

“Rabbit”,
Jeff Koons, stainless steel, 1986.

An object of art is a node, a wrinkle or fold in an integrated network of symbols, meanings and values. The beauty of a concept represented in art can become sold, exploited, abused – but the beauty persists and precisely because it is a thought, an abstraction that can not be captured by monetary value. In Les Demoiselles, Picasso represents a scene in Barcelona in which the women portrayed have themselves become commodities; this is a microcosm and a Zeitgeist of gender power systems, of economic exploitation and of the pollution or dissonance of abstract concepts that art (even by that time) can embody. Art is a store of meanings and values in a distributed system of information that is constantly reproducing itself; art is a network node in a self-gravitating field of information. Not only is a material artefact the location for the storage of abstract value and meaning, it is also the entity through which value and meaning recursively reproduce themselves as persistent entities in an accelerating field of information and conceptual abstraction: mysogyny breeds more mysogyny; cheap garish art incurs more cheap garish art; abstractions generate more abstractions.

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”,
Pablo Picasso, oil, 1907.

An object of art is an abstraction and node, a wrinkle or fold in an integrated and dynamic, non-linear network of symbols, meanings and values – of information. The node is the transient and passing particle which lingers in various measures temporarily, ripple-like, on the surface of that field; the field of information and energy reproduces itself through the presence and persistent influence of the nodes.

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